All the Pretty Horses is a beautifully written story set at the beginning of the end of two ages – the decline of the cowboy and the end of youth. It is 1949 and John Grady Cole is sixteen, ready to become a man and to put his love of horses to work. To do so, he and his seventeen-year-old friend, Lacey Rawlins, saddle-up and leave their Texas homes behind them in search of ranch work in Mexico. Of course, things aren’t always as simple as we think they should be. It isn’t for these boys either.
Reading the description, I thought this novel was as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, in which the protagonist goes through a tough time to learn valuable lessons which enable him to become an adult. Such stories often include a romantic relationship which helps to achieve this end. But while reading, I felt John Grady was already an adult. This kid knows his mind and how to handle himself. He is already equipped with a trade (braking horses) and is darn good at it. I’m thinking of Dickens’ Great Expectations, often considered a bildungsroman. Pip goes through much to grow up and I don’t think the pattern is the same for John Grady. John is perhaps reckless but not immature. He falls in love but is not a hopeless romantic like Pip. Having finished reading, I will concede this as a coming-of-age story because John undergoes a shift in the way he understands the world. He acquires a more “grown up” perspective. He always tries to do what he thinks is right but still struggles with his conscience. Finally, John recognizes that not everything in life can be explained and rationalized, that all events in life can’t be nicely wrapped up as we would like. More than the physical events that John experiences, it is this mental growth that signals adulthood. For me, watching how John processed his actions was as motivating to turn pages as reading for the plot.
I am a huge fan of McCarthy’s unconventional writing style. I’m amazed at his command of language and find his writing beautiful and inspiring. This is a text to take your time with, to enjoy the language and visualize what is being described. The descriptions are out of this world if you will allow yourself to sink into the text and not worry about finishing and finding out what happens. This is an “enjoy the journey” book and is not about getting to the end but appreciating the steps that lead to it. I realized on page one that I would have to slow down. I’m glad I did. Here’s an example of a description:
Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world. (McCarthy 67)
Wow, I just love that. I had to read it four times, once out loud to my husband, and we gushed about it (much like I’m doing now). It just so happens to be storming outside right now, too, and that’s just how the lightning is. On another note, I enjoyed the Spanish mingled throughout the text and was surprised at how much I remembered from class. But if you don’t know Spanish don’t worry as the text is 98% English.
Every time I opened this novel, I felt completely transported to the West. It was like I was hanging in the clouds watching John Grady ride his horse. I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. This is book one of the “Border Trilogy” but All the Pretty Horses stands well on its own. If I didn’t know there were more books I would have thought it was a standalone novel. Book two will be in my reading list for the future.
Publisher: Vintage, 1993 Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 4 Stars Pages: 301