Hel here! …
I have to say, before I delve into my review, that this is my favorite book we have read so far, and easily among my favorite top 15. It’s not that the story is so remarkable. There’s nothing special really to it. We’ve seen it all in any Western. But, my God, McCarthy can write. Lying in bed at night, my husband reading his Tom Clancy novels and I All The Pretty Horses, I kept reciting parts of the text to him that I thought were particularly beautiful. This one was from the last day I read the book, the last night we spent together, har har:
“He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of divergent equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower” (282).
My husband’s reply was something a long the lines of, “How do you write such bulls**t?” (Excuse him, he’s a sailor.)
I, on the other hand, was blown away by its grace. You don’t expect lines like this from a Western. But I digress. Let me be back up, to the beginning.
The beginning of this novel had me squirming in misery. How could I have picked this book?? How would I ever get through it?? As Panda mentioned, McCarthy doesn’t use quotation marks. He also doesn’t often indicate who is doing what (everyone is simply “he” or “she” most of the time, which can get really confusing). Not to mention – this is the kicker – half the book is in Spanish. And it doesn’t get translated. Luckily I read Spanish better than I speak it, so I had very little problem with it, but do yourself a favor and take a couple college level Spanish courses before you try to read this book.
ATPH instantly reminded me of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It made me just as furious (pun intended). The Sound and the Fury took me five years to read, and I never would have finished it if it hadn’t been required reading for an English class my junior year of college (the very same English class that, ironically, made me change my major from English to Zoology). As you can see, I had a lot of anxiety about reading ATPH.
I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on. Everything would probably be clearer – now that I am used to McCarthy’s style – if I went back and re-read the beginning, but for the longest time I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t tell who Rawlins was in relation to John; sometimes he referred to himself as John’s father, but John was clearly the leader of the two. I wanted to cry with confusion.
However, once I finally got the hang of McCarthy’s language, I ate it up. McCarthy’s writing style changes frequently within the book. Its main ingredient is definitely the run-on. The book often times reads like a script. But McCarthy also writes prose, as evident from my quote above. He infuses humor. And very minute details that really paint a complete picture. One page 277, he writes, “The first bars of sunlight broke past the rock buttes of the mountains to the east and fell fifty miles across the plain. Nothing moved. On the facing slope of the valley a mile away seven deer stood watching him”. He makes you feel as though you were there with John Grady, living it as it occurs. I loved (most) everything about it.
First thing I loved was John Grady Cole. He is a cowboy. I have a thing for cowboys. Need I elaborate? I don’t think so. John Grady is a true man’s man. He reminds me of the Robert Redford’s character in The Horse Whisperer: the quintessential cowboy, he is calm, brave, strong, smart, clever, empathetic, a born leader – the kind that other men love to follow, – trustworthy, and possesses sound judgement. True, some of the decisions he makes get him into a lot of trouble – like deciding to pursue Alejandra – but the decision was made with the knowledge that, to him, anything would be worth enduring to be with her.
As Panda pointed out, Alejandra herself is a bit of a…non person. Her character feels like a ghost. She is vague. In a way this is good, because you can really project anything you want onto her. But in the end I think Alejandra only exists to soften John Grady up a bit, give him a purpose and drive other than horses.
Like Alejandra, all the characters in this book serve a purpose. Aside from maids and bartenders, every person in ATPH was useful and very well defined. Rawlins plays the perfect side kick. A little rougher around the edges, a little more reckless and not as good at pulling it off as John Grady, rash in his decision making, quick to anger, but also very emotional (like when his nemesis, Blevins, gets into trouble, he always panics and wants to help him – and the desire to help him makes him feel even angrier, because he knows Blevins is no good for them). Alejandra’s great aunt, the matriarch, is regal, calculating, well postured (I imagine) and the necessary link between john Grady and Alejandra. Her voice is entirely different from that of the men in the novel. McCarthy gives life to a woman as easily and effortlessly as he does men.
John Grady and Rawlins, by the way, are very young men, only sixteen and seventeen years old, respectively – and note that even though John Grady is the younger of the two, he is still the leader! How is it that two such young boy-men can set out on horseback and go to another country and fight for their survival as they did? Can you picture Gus and Hazel, the main characters from last months read, doing the same? NO (and that’s not just because they were dying). Times is changed.
Times were also changing for John Grady and Rawlins. At the beginning of the novel, as they set out across Texas on horseback, they have to stop to clip fence wire. Rawlins seems offended by the notion of a fence and asks, “How the hell do they expect a man to ride a horse in this country?” “They don’t”, answers John Grady.
That quote excellently backs up what Panda so cleverly noticed in the book: the frontier is ending, the cowboy is a dying breed. Personally, I didn’t pick up on this at all. I am a face value type of gal. But now that Panda pointed it out, I can definitely see her point. How many men do you know who, after being shot, can still ride a horse bare back, and use the barrel of a hot pistol to sterilize the wound? Matter of fact, how many men do you know who can ride bare back, period?
That’s what I thought.
Men, you should read this book, and strive to be a cowboy. Please.
This is Helena’s review of All the Pretty Horses from our blog OhSoCleverReads: A Book Rapport Not a Book Report. Read the whole review there.