All the Pretty Horses (novel)
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|All the Pretty Horses|
|Cover artist||Cate Flynn|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||301 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-394-57474-5 (first edition, hardback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 20|
|LC Class||PS3563.C337 A79 1992|
|Followed by||The Crossing|
All the Pretty Horses is a novel by American author Cormac McCarthy published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. Its romanticism (in contrast to the bleakness of McCarthy's earlier work) brought the writer much public attention. It was a bestseller and it won both the U.S. National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is also the first of McCarthy's "Border Trilogy".
The novel tells of John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old cowboy who grew up on his grandfather's ranch in San Angelo, Texas. The story begins in 1949, soon after the death of John Grady's grandfather, when Grady learns that the ranch is to be sold. Faced with the prospect of moving into town, Grady instead chooses to leave, persuading his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, to accompany him. Traveling by horseback, the pair travel Southward into Mexico, where they hope to find work as cowboys.
Shortly before they cross the Mexican border, they encounter a young man, who says he is named Jimmy Blevins and seems to be aged about thirteen, but claims to be older. Blevins' origins and the authenticity of his name are never quite clarified. Blevins rides a huge bay horse that is far too fine a specimen to be the property of a runaway boy, but Blevins insists it is his. As they travel south, Blevins' horse and pistol are found and taken by a Mexican after his horse runs off while Blevins had been hiding during a thunderstorm.
Blevins persuades John Grady and Rawlins to go to the nearest town to find the horse and pistol. They find the horse, and Blevins takes it back. As the three are riding away from the town, they are pursued, and Blevins separates from Rawlins and John Grady. The pursuers follow Blevins, and Rawlins and Grady escape.
Rawlins and John Grady travel farther south. In the fertile oasis region of Coahuila state known as the Bolsón de Cuatro Ciénegas, they find employment at a large ranch. There John Grady first encounters the ranch owner's beautiful daughter, Alejandra. As Rawlins pursues work with the ranch hands, John Grady catches the eye of the owner, who brings him into the ranch house and promotes him to a more responsible position. At this time John Grady begins an affair with Alejandra.
In the meantime, Blevins works for a short time and then returns to the village where he retrieved his horse, this time to also retrieve the Colt pistol. In the process of getting the pistol, he shoots and kills a man. The Mexican authorities catch Blevins and then find Rawlins and John Grady at the other ranch. At first, the ranch owner protects Rawlins and John Grady; but when he finds out about the affair with his daughter, he turns them over to the authorities.
Blevins is executed by a group of rogue police led by a captain and then Rawlins and John Grady are placed in a Mexican prison. The prison mafia first test the two boys: Grady is wounded while defending himself from a cuchillero, whom he manages to kill. Alejandra's aunt is contacted by the prison thugs who manage to negotiate with her his ransom. The condition set by the aunt is that her niece Alejandra undertake never to see John Grady again. The boys are released. Rawlins goes back to the United States and John Grady tries to see Alejandra again. In the end, after a brief encounter, Alejandra decides that she must keep her promise to her family and refuses John Grady's marriage proposal. John Grady, on his way back to the Texas, kidnaps the captain at gunpoint, forces him to recover the stolen horses and guns, and flees across country. He considers killing the captain, but a group of Mexicans find John Grady and the captain and take the captain as a prisoner. John Grady eventually returns to Texas and attempts to find the owner of Blevins' horse. John Grady briefly reunites with Rawlins to return his horse and learns that his own father has died (something he has already intuited). After watching the burial procession of one of his family's lifelong employees (a Mexican woman), John Grady rides through western Texas on his horse with Blevins's horse in tow.
All the books of the "Border Trilogy" are written in an unconventional format which omits traditional Western punctuation such as quotation marks and makes use of polysyndetic syntax in a manner similar to that of Ernest Hemingway.
Although the night was cool the double doors of the grange stood open and the man selling the tickets was seated in a chair on a raised wooden platform just within the doors so that he must lean down to each in a gesture akin to benevolence and take their coins and hand them down their tickets or pass upon the ticketstubs of those who were only returning from outside. The old adobe hall was buttressed along its outer walls with piers not all of which had been a part of its design and there were no windows and the walls were swagged and cracked. A string of electric bulbs ran the length of the hall at either side and the bulbs were covered with paper bags that had been painted and the brushstrokes showed through in the light and the reds and greens and blues were all muted and much of a piece. The floor was swept but there were pockets of seeds underfoot and drifts of straw and at the far end of the hall a small orchestra labored on a stage of grainpallets under a bandshell rigged from sheeting. Along the foot of the stage were lights set in fruitcans among colored crepe that smoldered throughout the night. The mouths of the cans were lensed with tinted cellophane and they cast upon the sheeting a shadowplay in the lights and smoke of antic demon players and a pair of goathawks arced chittering through the partial darkness overhead.
In this passage, McCarthy reflects on the nature of evil:
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.
The novel was built on themes of isolation, travel, cultural displacement, and the evils of man. John Grady is a character in isolation. His relationship with his parents is almost nonexistent and with his cousin is tenuous and lacks intimacy. Grady is left to face his prison time alone and once out is rejected by the woman he loves. With nothing left for him in Mexico he begins his journey back to Texas alone. Of all the relationships in the book, Grady is closest with his horse and although an equestrian at heart, his love moves beyond admiration to pure understanding. In the end he finds himself a man in a country that’s not his, left alone to find one that is.
Evils are present throughout. It begins with Blevins, who seems to be running from something or someone but the point is not cleared. The boy comes to shoot a police officer and in turn is held, tortured, and executed by an unofficial police captain. The captain holds Grady and Rawlins prisoner and seems wholly unconcerned with justice, but rather finding the two guilty. He sends them to a prison where chaos and depravity rule, where one is forced to conform or be killed. Alejandra’s aunt later tells Grady the story of Mexico, how two brothers who’d given their money and lives to helping the poor of the country were later killed by the men they dedicated themselves to. At the culmination of his experiences Grady begins to questions the evils within himself.
There are many examples of the evils of man in dialogue. For example, "...it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they'd have no heart to start at all."
Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (1995) pays homage to the first book in McCarthy’s Border trilogy when Otis (Carlos Jacott) and Chet (Eric Stoltz) decide to start a book club.
In Stargate Atlantis Season 3 Episode 4 Sateda (2006), Character Rodney McKay mumbles "All the Pretty Horses" after being wounded in his posterior.
- "National Book Awards – 1992". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
(With acceptance speech by McCarthy and essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
- Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses. New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1993, p 122.
- McCarthy, pp. 256-257.
- Kicking and Screaming (1995 film)
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