by Cormac McCarthy
A coming of age story set in 1949, All the Pretty Horses follows sixteen year old John Grady Cole and his seventeen year old childhood friend Lacey Rawlins on a horse ride out of small town Texas and across the river into Mexico in search of work as cowboys in Coahuila state. Along the way, trouble finds them in the person of an even younger boy named Jimmy Blevins, whose propensity for not thinking, bad luck and maybe more than a little touch of evil will play out with tragic consequences for both the riders and some of the people who cross their path. While I'd wondered what it'd be like to read a McCarthy novel that was more conventional than Blood Meridian, I found All the Pretty Horses just as absorbing and gritty as its in-your-face predecessor. Of course, I was wowed once again by the novelist's descriptive flair. This Juan Rulfo-like bit, live from a Mexican holding cell, is typical of McCarthy's ability to paint a scene with a minimum of well-chosen brushstrokes: "They could hear sounds from the distant village. Dogs. A mother calling. Ranchero music with its falsetto cries almost like an agony played out of a cheap radio somewhere in the nameless night" (161). I was also smitten by the very cadences of the prose: "She looked up at him and her face was pale and austere in the uplight and her eyes lost in their darkly shadowed hollows save only for the glint of them and he could see her throat move in the light and he saw in her face and in her figure something he'd not seen before and the name of that thing was sorrow" (140). Finally, in a novel dominated by and large by laconic figures attempting to make some sense out of loss, I appreciated the space McCarthy afforded his characters to engage in philosophical digressions on subjects as varied as the souls of horses and the ubiquity of violence in Mexican history--"In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments. Those whom life does not cure death will. The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality, even when we will not" (238)--not to mention the virtuoso dream sequences and the naked emotion of this scene where John Grady realizes that the end of his love affair with the seventeen year old Alejandra is just another life lesson in the apparent randomness of things: "He lay listening to the horse crop the grass at his stakerope and he listened to the wind in the emptiness and watched stars trace the arc of the hemisphere and die in the darkness at the edge of the world and as he lay there the agony in his heart was like a stake. He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits" (256-257). An understandable fear and not only for a sixteen or seventeen year old, no? Ace.