All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy had a writing style all his own. As critics are quick to point out, he uses improper run-on sentences, ignores punctuation like quotation marks, and occasionally repeats himself. It’s like he is an old-time cowboy just telling his story as the details occur to him. And it suits the western genre well. From the very first page of All the Pretty Horses, I was mesmerized as though I had personally traveled back in time to western Texas and arrived in 1949. All the Pretty Horses is book 1 of The Border Trilogy, followed by The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain.
As the saga begins, 16 year old John Grady Cole and his 17 year old cousin Lacy Rawlins are ‘settin’ out on horseback’ for the Mexican border. Who knows what lies in store for them? Jobs, romance, or just an extended vacation? You begin to feel it’s going to be an exciting adventure.
What becomes immediately apparent is the contrast in the behavior of these young men compared to teenaged boys today. In the late 1940s, boys raised on rural farm land were strong, tough, honest, hard workers. Pretty much self sufficient and knowledgeable enough to survive off the land… forage for food, hunt, shoot, trap, fish, camp, travel alone to unknown places, all without the modern conveniences of today. They handled themselves like men and were admired for their loyalty, honor, and integrity.
What they weren’t prepared for was the lawless brutality, lying thieves, and evil inhumanity of some of the Mexicans. They never imagined they could end up in prison defending themselves against murderers and hard core criminals.
“They spend the whole of the first day fighting and when they were finally shut up in their cell at night they were bloody and exhausted and Rawlins’ nose was broken and badly swollen. The prison was no more than a small walled village and within it occurred a constant seethe of barter and exchange in everything from radios and blankets down to matches… and within this bartering ran a constant struggle for status and position. Underpinning all of it lay a bedrock of depravity and violence where… every man was judged by a single standard and that was his readiness to kill.”
Of course they survived- or there would be no sequel. They were weakened physically and emotionally drained, but their spirits were not broken. One touching moment was at a later date when John Grady and Lacy were hitchhiking along with migrant farmers in the pouring rain, and John Grady offered the farmers his cigarettes. They thanked him and smiled. “And after and for a long time to come he’d have reason to evoke the recollection of those smiles and to reflect upon the good will which provoked them for it had power to protect and to confer honor and to strengthen resolve and it had power to heal men and to bring them to safety long after all other resources were exhausted.” Even if you are not a generally a fan of the western genre, you may enjoy All the Pretty Horses. It won the National Book Award, and Cormac McCarthy also won many other awards for his stellar writing, including the Pulitzer Prize for his more recent novel The Road.
Rated 5 Stars
All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.