All the Pretty Horses (novel)
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|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||301 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-394-57474-5 (first edition, hardback)|
|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 travels 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 who seems to be about 13, 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 through a severe thunderstorm, Blevins' horse runs off and he loses his pistol.
Blevins persuades John Grady and Rawlins to go to the nearest town to find the horse and his distinctive vintage Colt pistol. They find the horse and the pistol, but have no way to prove Blevins' ownership. Against their better judgment, Blevins steals back the horse. 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 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's skill with horses catches the eye of the owner, who brings him into the ranch house and promotes him to a more responsible position as a horse trainer and breeder. At this time, John Grady begins an affair with Alejandra, which attracts the attention of Alejandra's great aunt, an intelligent and strong-willed widow who in her younger days defied social convention by being involved with Mexican revolutionaries. She tells John Grady about the consequences in Mexican society of a woman losing her honor, and how Alejandra can ill-afford to be seen in the presence of John Grady due to its potential impact on her reputation. The aunt recounts her own story of love and loss, and says, though it might seem she would be sympathetic to her own grand-niece's desire, it in fact has the opposite impact; she opposes their involvement.
As John Grady and Alejandra secretly become more deeply involved, a group of Mexican rangers visit the ranch and then ride off without explanation. Alejandra returns to Mexico City, where she is in school, and John Grady plans to ask her to admit her true feelings for him upon her return. When he confides this to a senior ranch hand who has been kind to him, John Grady is surprised to learn Alejandra has returned to the ranch without coming to see him.
Somewhat later, the rangers return and arrest Rawlins and John Grady. They are brought to a dismal Mexican prison, where they are thrown into a cell and discover Blevins is also in custody. They learn Blevins escaped his pursuers, but subsequently returned to the village where he had recovered his horse, this time to retrieve the Colt pistol. In the process of getting the pistol, he shoots and kills a man.
The three boys are interrogated and beaten, and a crooked police captain threatens them. While they are being transferred from their small jail to a larger prison, the captain and police officers detour to a remote ranch. Blevins is led off and Rawlins and John Grady watch powerlessly; they hear a gunshot as Blevins is executed.
The two friends are brought to the prison, where the inmates test the two boys by attacking them relentlessly over a period of days. They barely survive, and try to figure out how to get out of prison; an inmate with special privileges, who seems to command the respect of the other inmates, takes an interest in their situation and suggests money might solve their problem. Rawlins is severely wounded by a knife-wielding inmate and is taken away; Grady is not sure if Rawlins has survived. Soon after, Grady is wounded while defending himself from a cuchillero, and kills the man.
After a long recovery from his near-fatal stabbing, Grady is released and finds Rawlins has also survived and been freed. They discover that Alejandra's aunt has interceded to free them, but on the condition that Alejandra undertake never to see John Grady again.
Rawlins returns to the United States and John Grady tries to see Alejandra again. In the end, after a brief encounter, Alejandra decides she must keep her promise to her family and refuses John Grady's marriage proposal. John Grady, on his way back to Texas, kidnaps the captain at gunpoint, forces him to recover the horses and guns that were taken from him, Rawlins, and Blevins, and flees across country. He is severely wounded in the escape and cauterizes a serious gunshot wound using his pistol barrel heated in a fire.
He considers killing the captain, but encounters a group of Mexicans who call themselves "men of the country", who take the captain as a prisoner. John Grady eventually returns to Texas and spends months trying to find the owner of Blevins' horse. He gains legal possession of the horse in a court hearing where he recounts the entire story of his journey across the border, and the judge later tries to absolve Grady of his guilt both for killing the prisoner who attacked him and for being unable to prevent Blevins being murdered.
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 (an elderly Mexican woman who had helped care for three generations of his family from their infancy), the last strong link to his family and his past, John Grady rides off into the West 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.
- "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.
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