Friday, June 27, 2008

Review: All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses is the bastard offspring of a mating between Ernest Hemingway and Zane Gray, with some William Faulkner apparent in the DNA.
It was his horse. And it was a good horse. And he rode the horse. When it was night, he hobbled the horse by a stream and both boy and horse drank from the cold water of the stream . . . .
So, maybe that is not a direct quote, but it captures the essence.

Not that it is a bad book. There is plenty of exciting plot to keep it moving along, at least after the plodding first chapter. The story of John Grady Cole’s adventures in Mexico is riveting, involving vagabonds, a lovely senorita, her rich rancher father, Mexican prisons, murder, escape, and lots and lots of horses.

But the characters, with the exception of the fascinating aunt, are one-dimensional. Cole is a particularly wooden hero. It is apparent that McCarthy intended him as an archetype, but his approach of always doing the right thing, damn the consequences, becomes wearily repetitive. By the time he reaches his final soul-searching scene with a sympathetic judge back in Texas, he has become a stoic goody two shoes.

All the Pretty Horses won the National Book Award in 1992 and is the first of the three novels in McCarthy’s oft-praised “Border Trilogy,” followed by The Crossing and Cities of the Plain. Hopefully, the later books will keep the same spirit of adventure, but drop the Hemingway parody and add character development.


(Please leave a comment with a link it you would like me to list your review here.)


  1. I read this years ago in college for a class and I likewise didn't find it remarkably intriguing.

  2. I love McCarthy's writing. Having said that though, I think his most powerful fiction is his earlier stuff; most of it set in Appalachia. I particularly loved "Outer Dark." That was a real 'punch to the gut!'

  3. Christopher -- I am willing to give him further chances, but I don't think McCarthy will ever be a favorite of mine. I'll try the earlier stuff and see if I enjoy it more.


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