I was so excited when a co-worker lent me Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and couldn’t wait to get started. I had a few books ahead of it, so after I had devoured those, I picked up this National Book Award Winner and got to work.
Immediately I realized that this Western was not your typical cowboy tale in just the sheer manner in which it’s written. The text is long and winding with little to no punctuation. Characters speak freely without the use of quotation marks. McCarthy is almost a perfect hybrid, in my opinion, of Faulkner and Joyce. That being said, it took a little time to get used to, but once I got into a rhythm, the story flowed nicely.
The main character is John Grady Cole and I kept forgetting that he is only 16. He reminded me of a slightly more gruff, less educated Tom Booker, main character in Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer. But Grady is a good friend and an excellent horseman, which, of course, made me fall for him. Until I remembered, again, that he is only 16!!
The novel begins in Texas. Grady learns that, because of his grandfather’s recent death, his family must sell their ranch and move into town. Not on board with that, he and his best friend, Rawlins, saddle up and head south to Mexico in search of work. On the hunt for employment, we sleep out under the stars with Grady and Rawlins, and we meet up, begrudgingly, with Blevins, a young troublemaker on the run. Once Grady and Rawlins find work as cowboys, we meet the ranch owner’s daughter, and Grady’s love interest, Alejandra.
The plot thickens when Blevins’ character appears again and the violence that ensues is pretty graphic. Not an avid reader of the Western genre, I’m not sure if this is par for the course or not. Regardless, it’s easy to overlook the bloodshed and heartbreak because the prose, at times, especially when it’s about horses, is so beautiful. Some examples are below.
“What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran in them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenhearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise.”
“She watched him, not unkindly. She smiled. Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”
“Finally John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish for there would be nothing out of which to replenish it but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing.”
“Beware gentle knight. There is no greater monster than reason.”
In the end, you can’t help but love a man who’s willing to fight to the death for his horse. Grady is a worthy protagonist; you’ll find yourself planted firmly in his corner.