Movies Books Music Food Tv Shows Technology Politics Video Games Parenting Fashion Green Living more >

Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, Book 1) » User review

Great book period, but an ideal start for someone curious about McCarthy

  • Sep 30, 2010
  • by
Pros: Emotionally intense, characters, plot, pacing

Cons: I like the pacing, may be a little slow for others

The Bottom Line: It is a very inviting read.  It has almost all of McCarthy's complex style but presented in a softer (kinder?) way.

Edited to correct some embarrassing grammatical mistakes

In 1992 I was in graduate school in South Carolina. That year Dorothy Allison’s first novel Bastard Out of Carolina was nominated for the National Book Award. I was studying English (specifically Southern American Lit) and was ticked off when she didn’t win. Though no slap was intended, it appeared that the award went to a near polar opposite. Cormac McCarthy won for All the Pretty Horses. The irony here is that Ms. Allison’s novel was the angry one.

John Grady Cole is the scion of a withered clan with eighteen thousand acres of West Texas cattle ground. He is sixteen but speaks older and is naturally wise beyond his years. Though not exactly cocky, more matter of fact, John Grady believes that his knowledge and uncommon wisdom would allow him to run the ranch—this self-imposed duty is his because his father returned from WWII physically healthy but emotionally shaken enough for him to be unwilling to take on the task of running a huge and hardscrabble ranch. He is finally convinced that he is just too young for the task, so with nothing meaningful holding him to his somewhat lonely part of San Angelo county, he decides to light out for Mexico to perhaps find work on a ranch. Mainly, though he just wants a journey somewhere different enough from his world to test his mettle.

Lacey Rawlins, also 16 and John Grady’s best friend has no better reason to stay in San Angelo than John Grady. At 4am on a March morning in 1949 the pair set out southwest toward the Mexican state of Coahuila. They have some vague hearsay about a massive ranch in the middle of the state toward which they can amble.

Before they get to the Mexican border they are overtaken by an imp. He is young and appears to be riding a horse that almost certainly cannot be his. He claims the horse is his, that he is 16, and that his name is Jimmy Blevins. Neither of the pair believes any of this information to be true. Despite the fact that Blevins is likely an outlaw, having probably stolen the horse, they help him cross into Mexico. He stays with them until a massive storm separates them.

The two do indeed make it to a massive ranch where both are easily hired on as ranch hands. Prior, though, even to asking about jobs, two things occur that shift All the Pretty Horses from a novel driven by characters’ interactions with one another in a wide plot, to a plot driven story—largely unique for McCarthy to this point in his career. They see Blevins again this time as a true horse-thief. He was being chased after “freeing” “his” horse from its current owner—Blevins had lost the horse in the storm that separated him from his mates. And a wordless exchange with a young Mexican beauty of means who caught John Grady’s attentions.

John Grady has the unusual ability to calm horses regardless of their wildness (I hate to use it, but I suppose this makes him a horse whisperer). He proves to everyone on the ranch his abilities by breaking a dozen mostly wild horses in just a matter of a few days. This notoriety and the obvious affections between him and Alejandra (the daughter of the ranch owner, and the beauty he saw before arriving) make the Dona aware and wary of his presence. Over several games of chess, she gives him a history of the family and the area and offers an unambiguous warning to stop any contact with Alejandra.

I can say the obvious—the contact does not stop. It seems that John Grady and Rawlins were protected at the ranch because the pair is arrested shortly after the warning for being in connection with Blevin’s theft. From here I will only say that the emotional intensity increases dramatically and John Grady gets to test his mettle in ways he never imagined. He is driven by a “just one more time” yearning for the beauty. He is further driven by a sense of righteous duty towards Blevins. Like the shift to bringing the plot to the forefront, this emotional intensity is unique to McCarthy at this point.

Some general notes before getting to the recommendation. All characters are believable and the affection factor is striking: the love for the good guys and something bordering on true hate for the corrupt and mean. McCarthy’s novels are so masculine that I find it difficult to imagine that a woman would want to read more than a chapter or two--Horses is the exception. There is relatively little of McCarthy signature violence, and much of it is justified. There are women characters who speak more than a few sentences; I would argue that the strongest character in the novel is the Dona.

Given this, All the Pretty Horses is the most inviting of McCarthy’s works; it is the ideal novel to start with if you want to investigate his style—the language is just complex enough for the novel to flow well but not send you scurrying for a dictionary or to make you close the book out of frustration.

With any luck, I have created enough enticement rather than overselling it to a trite extreme.

There are just two things that may turn someone off if just scanning through the novel. The most obvious is that the intermittent Spanish spoken is not translated, so if you do not understand Spanish, this could be off-putting. But context usually allows you to get the idea making the passages simply more authentic. The second is that the novel may seem to drag. McCarthy’s style at the time was sometimes to linger on a landscape or a thought more than a casual reader may find interesting. Since I recommend the novel so highly, they are not items that bother me in the slightest.

Reviews for other McCarthy novels:
The Orchard Keeper
Blood Meridian
No Country for Old Men
The Road


What did you think of this review?

Fun to Read
Post a Comment
More All the Pretty Horses (The Bor... reviews
review by . March 15, 2011
"All The Pretty Horses" is essentially a Western tale set for the most part in Mexico during the middle of the twentieth century. It is the first novel in the "Border Trilogy" that also includes "The Crossing" and "Cities of the Plain". The story follows three teenage cowboys from Texas who move there in pursuit of work on a ranch. They find themselves in a series of sticky situations, which lead to a murder of one of them almost cost the other two their lives. The life in Mexico turns out to be …
review by . April 05, 2006
McCarthy's wonderfully told story about western life is gritty. His characters shift through a perilous purgatory with depth and realism. You can almost feel the dust on your own clothes, the sun's heat on your neck, and smell the lathered horses. The story takes place while the true west is drying up before a cowboy's own eyes. He's caught between his family's ranching heritage and his own cloudy future. Often the characters fall from the razor thin ledge of purgatory into the pit of hell, but …
review by . January 07, 2005
This one deserves an extra star. Beautiful is all I can say to this wonderful novel. This marvellous book has it all. The adventure and the tension is described in a way that makes you part of it. Cormac McCarthy's use of language is wonderful. Like a wave he sometimes describes things, a situation to the tiniest detail - but only for a few seconds. Then the wave drops down on you and he lets you roll within his and your imagination. The nature, the horses, even the romance; you're there and it …
About the reviewer
Paul Savage ()
Ranked #56
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this book


Part bildungsroman, part horse opera, part meditation on courage and loyalty, this beautifully crafted novel won theNational Book Awardin 1992. The plot is simple enough. John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old dispossessed Texan, crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico in 1949, accompanied by his pal Lacey Rawlins. The two precocious horsemen pick up a sidekick--a laughable but deadly marksman named Jimmy Blevins--encounter various adventures on their way south and finally arrive at a paradisiacalhaciendawhere Cole falls into an ill-fated romance. Readers familiar with McCarthy's Faulknerian prose will find the writing more restrained than inSuttreeandBlood Meridian. Newcomers will be mesmerized by the tragic tale of John Grady Cole's coming of age.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
view wiki


ISBN-10: 0679744398
ISBN-13: 978-0679744399
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Vintage
Polls with this book
A Clockwork Orange

Coming of Age Novels


2666: A Novel

Rate these Bestsellers!


First to Review
© 2015 Lunch.com, LLC All Rights Reserved
Lunch.com - Relevant reviews by real people.
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since