All the Pretty Horses
By Cormac McCarthy
Read Sept 2021
This reader listened to McCarthy’s The Road a number of years ago and was nearly dumbstruck by its ability to describe the disintegration of humanity (as the world’s ability to provide sustenance for its inhabitants has been eliminated) and at the same time provide a beautiful story of a father and son pressing forward to preserve. That book had its moments of graphic violence but the book wasn’t violent for violence’s sake but rather admitted that violence was part of the current situation.
This reader was aware that a number of McCarthy’s other books involve much violence so this reader didn’t immediately dive into other McCarthy books after The Road. An audio version of All the Pretty Horses became available so this reader took the plunge. As with The Road, listening to All the Pretty Horses eliminated all issues of McCarthy’s tendency to avoid punctuation and this reader could focus on the story and the language McCarthy uses to tell it.
This novel is set in 1949. Sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole’s mother is going to sell his recently deceased grandfather’s farm in Texas on which John Grady Cole has lived all his life. Having no interest in living in town, he sets off on horse back with his friend Lacey Rawlins, heading to Mexico with the hope of finding work as cowboys. They encounter a boy, Jimmy Blevins, who rides a large beautiful bay. His ownership of the horse, and claimed age and intentions are questionable, but Grady Cole and Rawlins allow him to ride along with them. Their interactions with him prove their eventual, although not immediate, undoing. Before that happens, Grady Cole and Rawlins find work on a ranch, Grady’s skills with horses is recognized and utilized, and Grady meets the ranch owner’s mysterious daughter. Despite the warnings of her great-aunt, Grady Cole becomes deeply involved with the daughter before he and Rawlins are arrested for horse stealing (which Blevins, not they, did when Blevins steals back a horse he lost). Grady Cole and Rawlins experience substantial violence in jail but they are eventually freed. They separately make it back to their home town, but at the end Grady Cole again leaves in search of a life he hopes to live but may no longer be available.
Had this reader read this book first, it’s unlikely she would have sought out The Road. While much of the language is quite beautiful, and John Grady Cole’s desire to find a life that may no longer exist is an interesting subject, this reader never felt the deep connection with him that she felt with the Man and Son in The Road. John Grady Cole certainly preserves through many physically and mentally difficult situations, some of which involve quite graphic violence. However, the book still felt mainly like a western written beautifully which wasn’t quite enough for this reader.