All the pretty horses

by Cormac McCarthy

Hardcover, 1992




New York : Knopf, 1992.


Fiction. Literature. Western. HTML:NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER â?˘ NATIONAL BESTSELLER â?˘ The first volume in the Border Trilogy, from the Pulitzer Prizeâ??winning author of The Road All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself. With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for

Media reviews

You can’t just nip at darkness, so when you read this book, from page one you feel a threat following you, some animistic urging that keeps you going by the way McCarthy manipulates your demonic love of the sounds of speech.
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All the Pretty Horses may indicate McCarthy's desire to come in out of the cold of those Tennessee mountain winters, but his imagination is at its best there with Arthur Ownby or with the monstrous Judge of Blood Meridian drowning dogs. He is best with what nature gives or imposes, rather than with
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the observations of culture.
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Just as jazz is the archetypal American music, so is the Western the truly original genre of American literature. The West --- particularly for those of us who grew up on a video diet of television shows such as "Gunsmoke," "Cheyenne," and "The Rifleman," and the literary feast of the classic
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novels of Zane Gray and Louis L' Amour --- is evocative of a time of rough nobility, where it seemed as if each breath brought a new confrontation of Good vs. Evil. The reality was, of course, something quite different, an existential setting where life and death did strange dances in the sunset and actions occurred with a randomness and happenstance that took no notice of pureness of heart or motive and often rendered foresight useless. This reality is presented with an indescribable elegance in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, the first volume of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. The volumes that comprise The Border Trilogy --- ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, THE CROSSING, and CITIES OF THE PLAIN --- each stand quite well independently, though they are best read together and in order. But it is ALL THE PRETTY HORSES that is, in many ways, the superior volume to its brothers in the trilogy and quite possibly to any other work written by an American writer in the 20th Century. McCarthy's landscape is the southwest of Texas and Mexico between the two world wars, a time of uneasy transition, when horses and motor vehicles share the road and cattle ranches and cowboys are fading from the landscape. John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old with a love for horses and a knowledge of them far beyond his years, senses on some level that the way of life he loves --- horses and cattle ranching --- is soon to come to an end. He and his best friend Lacey Rawlins run away to Mexico in search of unnamed fulfillment other than the promise of adventure. Their meeting with the enigmatic Jimmy Blevins is a pivotal event that leads Cole into a series of bittersweet and violent encounters in a land where the rules are unknown and constantly changing. When Cole and Rawlins separate from Blevins and obtain employment on a Mexican cattle ranch, it appears that they have achieved their idyllic dream. Their brief association with Blevins, however, collides with Cole's affair with Alejandra, the beautiful and willful daughter of the owner of the ranch. Cole and Blevins soon find themselves in a situation where neither hope nor mercy exist. McCarthy's main theme in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is conflict --- man vs. woman, freedom vs. authority, rich vs. poor --- viewed through a clear glass with unblinking, unwavering vision and described with a poetic voice possibly unequaled in all of American fiction. Although the violence in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is sudden and uncompromising, it is never gratuitous. It is also balanced and contrasted by McCarthy's description of the blossoming and fulfillment of the romance between the star-crossed Alejandra and Cole, a description that leaves the reader hoping that it will succeed even as it is known, almost from their first encounter, that any relationship between them is predestined to fail. Ultimately, however, what is most significant about ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is that McCarthy has transcended the constraints of literature and fashioned a work that functions on an aural and visual level as well as a literary one. It is on that basis that it is possibly the penultimate American work of art of its era. One cannot come away from reading ALL THE PRETTY HORSES without wondering if, at the end of time and all that is, one of the last sounds to be heard will be the turning of the final page of this wonderful, incredible novel.
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The magnetic attraction of Mr. McCarthy's fiction comes first from the extraordinary quality of his prose; difficult as it may sometimes be, it is also overwhelmingly seductive. Powered by long, tumbling many-stranded sentences, his descriptive style is elaborate and elevated, but also used
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effectively to frame realistic dialogue, for which his ear is deadly accurate.
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Situada en 1949, en las tierras fronterizas entre Texas y México, la historia se centra en el personaje de John Grady Cole, un muchacho de dieciséis años, hijo de padres separados que tras la muerte de su abuelo decide huir a México en compañía de su amigo Lacey para encontrarse con un mundo
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marcado por la dureza y la violencia. Una novela de aprendizaje con resonancias épicas que inaugura un paisaje moral y físico que nos remite a la última epopeya de nuestro tiempo. Un estilo seco para una historia de emociones fuertes, ásperas, primigenias.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member browner56
When do we lose our innocence? When do we lose our sense of the past? These are just two of the themes explored in this stunning novel, which is the first volume of the author’s celebrated Border Trilogy. Set in West Texas and Mexico of the 1940s, “All the Pretty Horses” tells the powerful
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coming-of-age story of two young men who share the same quest but end up following very different paths. John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins are idealistic and naïve—traits they lose soon enough—but they are also fiercely loyal and it is this loyalty that ultimately defines them and saves their lives.

McCarthy’s extraordinary gifts for language and story-telling are on full display, creating some of the most memorable scenes and characters in modern literature. (He even manages to have his hero ride off into the sunset at the end of the book.) Of course, as in all of his novels, the story he tells here is neither upbeat nor life-affirming--things tend to end badly for his protagonists, who are usually in over their heads as events beyond their control run their course--but it is a beautiful and memorable tale nonetheless. McCarthy has been labeled “the new Faulkner” and while that may well be a valid comparison, for me the Southwestern border is a far more compelling and interesting place than rural Mississippi.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
When I start a Cormac McCarthy novel, I need to be in the right mindset. His stories are dark and foreboding - but always rich and compelling. It's a journey through the Southern Gothic, and when I'm ready for the ride, I'm always pleased. That's certainly the case with my latest McCarthy book, All
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The Pretty Horses.

Told from the perspective of young John Grady Cole, All The Pretty Horses is a coming of age tale for John Grady and his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, who decide to leave their homes in San Angelo, Texas, and travel south to Mexico. As they prepare to cross into Mexico, they meet another boy who calls himself Jimmy Blevins, and immediately, Rawlins is suspicious of him. John Grady, though aloof about Blevins too, feels a sort of responsibility toward him, and it's this attachment that will haunt John Grady months down the road.

After Blevins parts ways from John Grady and Rawlins, the friends end up on a ranch, where John Grady shows his talents breaking in horses. He also captures the eye of the ranch owner's daughter, and they fall in love, though it is a forbidden one. As Rawlins predicted, Blevins is trouble, and as he's arrested for theft and murder, the Mexican officials come after John Grady and Rawlins. They are arrested and thrown in jail.

I won't give away the ending, but it's full of heartbreak, violence and redemption. Overall, I was less pleased with the ending than the rest of the story. I forget, sometimes, that McCarthy's book are considered "westerns" by some standards, and a barn shoot-out shouldn't surprise me. But it always does.

McCarthy's writing in All The Pretty Horses is pitch perfect. He paints a landscape like no other. His Faulknerian prose, lack of punctuation and gritty descriptions are truly works of art. I don't know he pulls it off, but McCarthy does, and I am always a better reader as a result.

I look forward to reading the Border Triology's second book, The Crossing, later this year. Until then, the story of All The Pretty Horses will weigh on my mind for a long time.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Series: The Border Trilogy (Book 1)
Edition: Harper Audio (2004), Unabridged MP3; 9h46, Narrated by Frank Muller
Original publication date: 1992

I really loved revisiting this book after several years; the audio version worked very well too, with Frank Muller giving lots of colour to these characters.
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Not only that, but he gave such a sensitive reading that he made the gorgeous passages describing the cinematography, scenery, lighting and supporting characters and 'extras' (in movie-speak) very vivid. I use movie jargon quite on purpose because there's something about McCarthy's prose that brings up clear images in my mind of what he's describing, very much like a cinematic experience, and I say this as someone who has not seen the movie version, and also as someone who rarely can imagine the scenes described in books, which might be surprising given I'm a visual artist, but so it is. I also couldn't help but feel this story was closely connected with another beloved Western story, Brokeback Mountain, because of how attune we are to these young boys even though we are never told how they are feeling or processing events, and rather shown with, in the case of John Grady Cole, rather less than more dialogue. Though of course being shown rather than told is the mark of a good writer. The other connection to that other book was that I have seen the movie version of Brokeback Mountain and kept imagining our young hero John Grady as Heath Ledger and the way he portrayed Ennis del Mar, with a similar kind of reserve and perhaps similar looks as well, very attractive, but not in the last self-consciously so and a bit of a scamp.

For those who are not familiar with the story, it is about two boys, ostensibly cousins, both sixteen, sometime in the late 40s leaving home on horseback from their impoverished Texas lives, and in John Grady Cole's case, a broken home, to make their way to Mexico to find work. On their way there, he and Rawlins are joined by a young boy who claims his name is Jimmy Blevins (the name of a radio personality). He claims to be sixteen but is probably no more than thirteen and riding atop a huge bay horse which seems much too fine a specimen to belong to him, and they suspect the boy has stolen him and will probably bring nothing but trouble, so want nothing to do with him. But Blevins follows them doggedly until they are forced to accept him as a travel companion. Eventually the boys lose Blevins along the way (to reveal more would be a big spoiler) and find employment on a large ranch owned by a wealthy, old money, and therefore powerful family. He falls in love at first sight with the owner's daughter, and his love is very much requited so that the two quickly become lovers. The girl's great aunt holds the reins in the family and soon warns off John Grady, though in a most civilized way, by first inviting him to play a game of chess during which she tells him part of her life story, of having been educated in France and being a thinking woman, difficult to accept in society in her days. He doesn't heed her warning and soon enough the boys are arrested under a charge of horse theft and sent to the worst kind of Mexican penitentiary, where they are forced to rely on their survival skills.

I hadn't been as conscious of how much of the story rides on the aunt (pun intended—it is a story involving hoses after all) in the first reading, when I was concentrating on the story from the boy's point of view. Another thing I noticed this time is how almost unbelievably clever and accomplished John Grady is. He's skilled with hoses, which he has a great affinity for and knows how to 'break' in record time to the admiration of all the ranch workers and locals, which in itself is believable enough, but when comes time for him to defend himself and survive against the worst kind of odds, he almost turns into a Western version of James Bond, which is a slight exaggeration since there are no gadgets or tricks or explosions, but at the same time the feats he manages to accomplish against the direst of odds seem almost miraculous, though of course in the deft hands of McCarthy, very much in the realm of possibility, if one throws in that the boy is probably blessed by a good star and protected by the love of a young and beautiful woman.

I remember reading from a softcover edition the first time at first being a little bit daunted by McCarthy's stream of consciousness style, featuring very little punctuation as that style tends to do, but after the first couple of initial pages, which I read over more than once to get used to the tone and rhythm, it flowed very naturally and it was easy enough to let oneself float along in his stream and let the story take hold of the imagination. Does it sound like I loved this novel? That's because I did, and I'm very happy I revisited it before moving on to the next book in the [Border Trilogy], which I hope to do in near future.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"And after and for a long time to come he'd have reason to evoke the recollection of those smiles and to reflect on the good will which provoked them for it had the power to protect and to confer honor and to strengthen resolve and it had the power to heal men and to bring them to safety long after
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all other resources were exhausted."

After the family patriarch passes and it becomes clear that the family ranch, the only home he has ever known, will be transferred away from the family, sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole heads for Mexico. His best friend, Lacey Rawlins, joins him and they reluctantly pick up the company of a youngster who claims his name is Jimmy Blevins. It's about the dead-center of the 20th century and border crossing is no more difficult than stripping down and riding one's horse across the river. Cole and Rawlins are looking for work with horses; Blevins seems to be looking for trouble. It turns out that all three of them find trouble and the middle section of the novel depicts a series of violent and terrible events. McCarthy doesn't flinch from the violence but he doesn't dwell on it, either. It's just what is there. And it doesn't overwhelm the love and loyalty and optimism that our young Cole appears to be blessed with.

This is a western and a coming of age story and a beautiful homage to the relationship between a man and his horse. McCarthy's prose is eloquent, falling just this side of overdone. His descriptions of things, of landscapes and buildings and men, are vivid and sometimes breathtaking. This is an author who notices details and renders them such that you can feel yourself standing in the place:
"The floors were of narrow pine boards and the grain was etched by years of sand trod into them and the windows along both walls had missing panes of glass replaced with squares of tin all cut from the same large sign to form a broken mosaic among the windowlights."

Though the story is laced with heartbreaking tragedy, it also made me laugh. After the bumbling and blustery Blevins has become separated from his horse and his pistol, along with most of his clothes, the trio rides on two horses into a pueblo. Blevins wants desperately to find and reclaim his horse.
"...the first thing they saw was Blevins' pistol sticking out of the back pocket of a man bent over into the engine compartment of a Dodge car. John Grady saw it first and he could have named things he'd rather have seen.
Yonder's my goddam pistol, sang out Blevins.
John Grady reached behind and grabbed him by the shirt or he'd have slid down from the horse.
Hold on, idjit, he said.
Hold on hell, said Blevins.
What do you think you're goin to do?
Rawlins had put his horse alongside of them. Keep ridin, he hissed. Good God almighty.
Some children were watching from a doorway and Blevins was looking back over his shoulder.
If that horse is here, said Rawlins, they wont have to send for Dick Tracy to figure out who it belongs to."

The novel doesn't even register on the Bechdel Test but these male characters are rough and tender and true (okay, John Grady Cole is a bit shinier than your average 16-year-old cowboy). Four and a half enthusiastic stars.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Set in the 1949, the novel revolves around 16-year old Texan John Grady Cole.

McCarthy is among the most unreadable authors I've ever encountered. If all McCarthy's books are like this, tell me so I can stay away from them. We're talking about the kind of author that dumps the grammar book into the
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trash because, of course, as a Profound Genius(tm) he's beyond that. No quotation marks. Almost no apostrophes. No commas as far as eyes can see. The word "and" connecting clauses with the monotony of a metronome. Talking heads dialogue. Frequent made-up compound words like "blanketlined," "ardenthearted" and "spragglelegged." Unapt metaphors. And if I didn't know Spanish somewhat, I no doubt would have found myself irritated by all the untranslated conversations in that language.

I couldn't see character or plot with all the Style(tm) in my way. I forced myself to read the first section of about 100 pages only because I swore I'd do that with the list of literary fiction recommendations I've been working through to give the books a fair chance. Not an inkling of a sense of humor. Mine eyes they glazeth over. I've seen the film based on one of his other books btw, No Country For Old Men, and it counts as of the darkest and most depressing films I've ever seen. I think this just isn't a writer for me.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
I found this to be the best of the McCarthy books I've read. It is as scenic and beautiful as Blood Meridian but less awful and with more likable characters. It is as touching as The Road but is less bleak and offers more hope. He even took a shot at female characters and it wasn't a complete
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failure. It does take a while to get into the way he does dialogue with no quotes or attribution, and there's a LOT of Spanish. Overall though I would recommend this book to most people and plan to read the sequel. 4.5 stars
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LibraryThing member avidmom
"... he rode out to the crest of a low rise and dismounted and dropped the reins and walked out and stood like a man come to the end of something."

Horses. Seventeen-year-old John Grady Cole loves horses. It's just a part of him; horses are in his blood. So when his grandfather dies and his mother
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decides to sell their Texas ranch where Cole has grown up, Cole realizes that there's nothing tying him down to the Texas soil. What's a boy to do? Well, you team up with your friend and saddle up your horses and cross the border to Mexico. This is a boy(s)-to-men story, a Western, an adventure, and a romance all in one. I really liked the characters of Cole and Rawlins (and even Blevins) and really want to know what happens to John Cole. (Rawlins too. I hope he shows up again in the series.) So, McCarthy has roped me into his Border Trilogy.

McCarthy's style is something I had to get used to; I think I have a love/hate relationship with it. Someone mentioned that if you like Steinbeck's writing, you will most likely like McCarthy. And I see their point, there are similarities. Like Steinbeck, he does paint a vivid landscape with his words. But, while Steinbeck (mostly) sticks with the conventions of grammar, McCarthy is like a bucking bronco and breaks all the grammar rules. He writes long, lavish run-on sentences that go on for days. This particular McCarthy writing quirk didn't bother me too much at first. By the end of the book, though, I felt he was overusing his paragraph-long sentences - just because he could and he would and so there you go and if you don't like it that's just too bad and I don't think he's wrong it's just that after reading all those "ands" over and over and feeling like I couldn't catch my reading breath it just kind of got on my nerves and please separate these sentences and maybe a comma or two isn't such a bad thing to have here and there. And there is my McCarthy dilemma. The very things about his style that I really loved - because grammar rules were meant to be broken! - were also the same things that drove me nuts. At the beginning of the book, I read this rather long sentence over and over because it just "wowed" me: "{The train} came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing ground-shudder watching it till it was gone." I saw all that. Vividly. In living color. He had other quirks as well. He seldom used commas (or apostrophes) and he never used quotation marks for dialogue. I was glad of the no quotation marks; it actually made reading the dialogue easier. The untranslated Spanish was an issue too (until I found the online "cooking with marty") but it also made the book feel very authentic.

My favorite passages in the book were the ones that focused on the horses themselves. What I think elevated this book and gave it its real beauty was the way McCarthy so eloquently and poignantly wrote about the spiritual aspect of the horses. John Cole doesn't love horses because they're merely beautiful. It's a much deeper spiritual connection. "...he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stones the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse's heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it."

Cole rides off into Mexico one way and comes back another. It's really not too clear how Cole's adventures have changed him until he seeks out some spiritual guidance from a judge and a preacher near the end of the story. These conversations give us a clear picture of Cole's character. Or maybe, more accurately, gives Cole a clearer picture of his character. At the beginning of the story, Cole seems to be riding away from his life. He's wandering, directionless. By the end, he seems to be riding towards something. Cole's story starts at the end and ends at the beginning. The beginning of what? And where is he going?

Looks like I'll have to read more to find out.
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
Two young cowboys , still boys and not yet men travel to 1940's Mexico in search of adventure. They get work on a ranch and then find themselves in serious trouble with the law after one of them falls in love with the ranchers daughter. The long passages in Spanish(? ) were a bit distracting and
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annoying as you feel you may be missing something crucial in the dialogue. The writing is typical of this author with his unique style, minimal punctuation and themes of violence. However it was in part a coming of age story, romance and a how to survive in a Mexican prison. This is the first book in the Border trilogy with The Crossing and Cities of the Plain to complete the trilogy.
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LibraryThing member .Monkey.
"The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of
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the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing."

Initially I wasn't very sure about this book. I think maybe I was at a slight disservice because the other work of his I'd previously read just jumped right into the thick of things, and this one definitely took longer to really form up and take shape; meanwhile I had no idea what was really going on or why or anything, so it was a little iffy, and not how I was expecting things to go. Plus, he doesn't use any distinguishing marks for speech, he makes use of rambling stream-of-consciousness sentences like that shown above, and there's the issue of everyone being referred to simply as "he" all the time, and when there's some kind of back & forth between two or more people, it can wind up a bit confused which one has done something. However. The quotation marks aren't that big a deal, it's clear enough what's speech and what's not; the long rambling sentences may be long and rambling but they're also, for the most part, rather evocative and convey a kind of mood; and the issue of who does what, well, you can usually work it out from the surrounding lines, and if not it's not important anyhow.

There is, additionally, a bit of Spanish sprinkled throughout, sometimes just a couple words, other times several short sentences back & forth. Having lived the bulk of my life in the US, I have some familiarity with some basic Spanish, but enough was over my head that I used Bing translate to put in some words/sentences and make sure I understood what was being said. Mostly you got the idea from what else was going on, but I preferred to know exactly. Again, this was not a big deal in practice, as it's not that frequent, and it's only a line or few. But for someone with zero knowledge of Spanish who isn't around a computer, it could potentially be a little annoying not to know precisely what's being said.

"He lay on his back in his blankets and looked out here the quartermoon lay cocked over the heel of the mountains. In that false blue dawn the Pleiades seemed to be rising up into the darkness above the world and dragging all the stars away, the great diamond of Orion and Cepella and the signature of Cassiopeia all rising up through the phosphorous dark like a sea-net. He lay a long time listening to the others breathing in their sleep while he contemplated the wildness about him, the wildness within."

Once the story formed up more, it turned excellent and stayed that way; I read 229 of the 300pgs in one day, only breaking for dinner. My attention was hooked and remained hooked.

In a way, it's a kind of a coming of age story. It's a journey of two boys who are unhappy with their lot and set out to find something else, to seek out & live the kind of life they want to lead. Of course, this isn't easy for the most prepared of people, and two young boys are not oft prepared for the surprises of life. In any case, it winds up being as much a spiritual journey as literal one. The story actually almost reminds me of On the Road — that nearly desperate aimless wandering, seeking to find something, not even knowing what it is that's being searched for, not really even being aware that something deeper is being searched for. Only in this case there is a lot more at stake.

"He stood holding his horse while the rider turned and rode out and dropped slowly down the skyline. He squatted on his heels so as to watch him a little while longer but after a while he was gone."

This was a really rather surprisingly marvelous book, and I will certainly be reading the others of the trilogy (and more McCarthy in general).
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Cormac McCarthy is an incredibly precise writer, and his immense talent is showcased in this novel, which — while bleak — is not as unremittingly bleak as his other novels that I have read (Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, The Road). When McCarthy writes about the deserts and ranches of
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Texas and Mexico, those vast, beautiful spaces open up before the eye of the reader’s imagination. In this coming-of-age novel, he is able to completely evoke a place, a feeling or an idea with only a few well-chosen words.

The story is about a teenage boy, John Grady, and is set just after World War II. The ranching life is all he knows, and horses are his reason for existence. When his grandfather dies and his absentee mother decides to sell the ranch where he has lived all his life, John Grady heads for Mexico on horseback with his best friend, Lacey. Along the way, they meet up with another kid riding what has to be a stolen horse and going under what has to be an assumed name, Jimmy Blevins. This happenstance meeting sets off all the events to come like a lit fuse. But first, John Grady and Lacey find employment on a Mexican ranch, and John Grady finds his first love in the rancher’s beautiful daughter, Alejandra.

The characters are the strength of this novel. McCarthy uses his spare prose to fullest effect to transform these characters into fully realized human beings. Even in just a few lines of dialogue, we can hear the cadence of their speech, picture how they must look, understand what they must feel. The only drawback is that there is a lot of Spanish dialogue, and if you don’t speak Spanish, you may feel like you’re missing a vital part of the story. (I’m not sure if this is true, as I don’t speak it, but I was able to get the gist from context most of the time.)

Every writer seems compelled to write a coming-of-age story, I guess because everybody has one, and often it is the greatest story of a life. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to read any more of them, that I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime, thank you. Then I get hold of a really good one, like this one, and I am swept away again by how powerful this age-old story can be.

All the Pretty Horses is the first novel in the Border trilogy and the winner of the National Book Award.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I am not what you would call the average Cormac McCarthy reader. Yes, I may fit the stereotype—white male with a beard in his thirties—but I defy most stereotypes and hope that someday I may be the poster child for “stereotypes be damned.” (It seems out of place to use quotes in a review of
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a McCarthy book, doesn't it?) Historically, grisly, romanticized westerns do little for me.

Like everyone else, I've read The Road. That was more than a decade ago and I thought, “eh, it's okay.” It was the first McCarthy I'd read and while I was open to the idea of returning to the author, he wasn't on the top of my list. Two weeks ago, I had no plans of returning to McCarthy anytime soon. I have a long list of books I really want to read, and between those and whatever randomly tempts me on the bookshelf, I have no time for outliers. But a strange thing happened: I wasn't in the mood for any of the books on my list. Nothing seemed right. I experienced something rare: I had no idea what I wanted to read. I spent more than an hour trying to decide what was next. I was tempted to just take a day or two away from reading. Then, as though some conscious entity grew tired of my fit, I picked up All the Pretty Horses and started reading. Divine intervention? Subconscious desire? Likely, I just wanted to surprise myself.

And was I surprised. Within an hour, I found that I was enjoying the story. Thoroughly. And for those who know me and my likes, this may be surprising. I'm an open-minded individual and will try things outside of my comfort zone, but there are some things that have burned me so many times that I expect to be displeased. A book that promises to be filled with horses and gunfights is prone to disappoint. All the Pretty Horses exceeded all my baseless expectations. Much of my appreciation was in the way the main characters, John Grady and Lacey Rawlins, converse. What pulled me in was those two, sitting around a fire and talking, riding through desolate terrain and talking. Oddly, I became very wrapped up in their simple conversation. Even though their relationship seemed unbalanced, even though Grady seemed like a contradiction, and even though I hate heat and horses, I was pulled in. And as others were added to the mix, the dynamics changed, but the conversation remained riveting.

Grady was a wonderful character, though I couldn't quite grasp how much faith I was willing to invest in his authenticity. Although I never thought of Grady as old, I had trouble shaping his image as a sixteen year old. He was far too wise and mature. The more I got to know him, the more I was convinced that such a wise teenager could exist. And, as the story developed, I began to see that underneath it all, he may have not been quite as wise as he seemed (though I'm still not sure). Multi-dimensional character: you've hooked me.

Ironically, it was only when the book picked up speed, reaching its climax, that my interest waned some. An old-fashioned shootout and the getaway on a horse: I find that a bit boring. Overall, this was such a small part of the novel that I wasn't too distracted by it.

Who'd have thought that cowboys sitting around talking would've been such a draw? Divine intervention? I'm a weird one, I guess. Now I'm actually excited to read the next book in the series.
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LibraryThing member mashley
Liked the writing but didn't like the end--no wrap up. will try others by this author
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy is the first book in his Border Trilogy. It took me awhile to get into this book as the author seems to favour very long sentences and has a disregard for punctuation. This and his habit of delivering phrases in Spanish with no translation meant I had to
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really concentrate on his writing. Luckily I was rewarded with a rich, vibrant story that transported me into a world of young men finding their way and coming to grips with the fact that their preferred way of life is vanishing. In John Grady Cole we have a main character with integrity, principals and courage to stand up and do the right thing. I know very little about the rest of the Border Trilogy, but I am hoping to read more of about this particular character.

John Grady and his friend Lacey Rawlins ride out to Mexico and along the way they meet Jimmy Blevins who appears to be a magnet for trouble. And trouble is indeed what they find as they end up in a Mexican jail having to fight for their very lives. There is also an interrupted first love story that was sincere and touching. The author does not shy away from extreme violence and bloodshed but these scenes are always appropriate within the confines of the story.

Cormac McCarthy will now join the ranks of western writers that I love. His poetic yet sparse way with descriptions, his laconic storytelling and his believable characters remind me of the writings of Larry McMurtry, Ivan Doig and Kent Haruf. I am looking forward to exploring more from this author.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
When a young man learns that his family ranch is being sold, he sets out on horseback with a companion on a journey down to Mexico. There they not only find work as ranchers, but they meet a fellow traveler who brings them trouble and the boy finds love with the daughter of a hacienda owner. Both
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of which bring the two men insurmountable trouble.

The novel modernizes the Western by setting it in the '50s and using literary language. Along with horseback riding through open countryside, gun fights, and outrunning posses, the most notable Western trope is the main character himself, who though young and born outside the age of the Wild West takes on the persona of the stoic, no nonsense cowboy, one who ultimately rides off into the sunset.

Mixed with this Western sensibility is a nostalgia for the Wild West and the imagined romance and freedom of a frontier, which is long gone, both for the boy of the story and for us as readers. Though the boy seeks this frontier in Mexico, a place where there are less fences around things, what he finds it a place both more and less free than he hoped it would be.

Despite the rich beautiful language in which it is written and my overall enjoyment of the storyline, I found myself emotionally detached from the characters and events. So, I find that while I like this book, I don't quite love it.
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LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
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
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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 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.
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LibraryThing member lsachs
McCarthy's novel follows John Grady Cole, a Texas cowboy, as he travels south to Mexico with his best friend. Mexico turns out not to be as idyllic as they had hoped, as they soon come to find out that it is a place where, as the back cover says, "dreams are paid for in blood". I can't reveal much
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else without spoiling the plot, but know that the Mexico they encounter is far different from the traditional Western frontier Mexico the boys dreamt of.
John Grady is undoubtedly the hero of the novel, both traditionally and... not. He is traditionally heroic in his cowboy code--the unwritten, honorable creed by which he lives. A hopeless romantic, he clings to this code despite all the bad things he experiences in Mexico. In all his heartbreak and "defeat", he stoically clings to his cowboy code. John Grady is the old West, honorable, meeting obstacles in this strange land which he cannot overcome. His heroism comes not from his actions and consequences, but from his universal goodness and stoicism.
I would definitely recommend this novel. It's a different read, with McCarthy using a ridiculous amount of compound sentences and omitting quotation marks. He also jumps back and forth from English to Spanish as the characters converse with the natives, which some might find frustrating. These things only made me love the book more. His unique style is incredible, and his imagery as vivid as I've ever encountered. I absolutely loved this book.
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LibraryThing member presto
Two boyhood friends, sixteen years old John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins, seventeen, head out from Texas over the border into Mexico in search of a life that is fast disappearing at home, the life of the cowboy. They are soon joined by a wild young boy who calls himself Jimmy; they tolerate Jimmy's
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company despite their fears that he will bring nothing but trouble.

The story follows their progress through Mexico, and the troubles that inevitable come their way. It is a story of the friendship of the two boys, of their quest for adventure, of John Grady's love of horses, of teenage love that cannot be. It is a story about the West and Mexico. It is a story filled with drama, of loss, retribution and redemption.

Cormac McCarthy's s sparse prose initially seems lacking in emotion, and for a while the characters seem as remote from the reader as they appear to each other, but after a short while one is drawn in by the mood of starkness and we then see the depth of the two boys' friendship, their trust, loyalty and integrity. McCarthy's economy of prose extends to minimal use of punctuation, sentences, often lengthy, are unbroken by commas, and quotation marks are not used for speech. Some of the dialogue is in Spanish, but this does not hinder the understanding, even as a non-linguist I found I could follow the gist of it. I also found it useful to follow their travels with the aid of Google maps!

All the Pretty Horses is a story with a beauty all its own; at times it is harrowing, even disturbing, but always gripping, and one cannot but feel for these two decent boys. It is both a moving and rewarding read.
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LibraryThing member vguy
Boy's yarn with added metaphysics. Rather like reading a Western movie - but a good one. Landscape and the horses infuse the whole with something like the Pathetic Fallacy. Reminiscent of Hardy in mourning a passing way of life and the tiny nobility of man. Style sometimes strives for grandeur and
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falls a touch short, could easily be parodied, as Alan Coren did for Hemingway. And Papa sure lurks in the background, perhaps envious of a man doing it better. Will read more of CM, this was my first.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
"They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness." (p 30)
The story begins in a room lit by candle light with John Grady Cole wearing a black suit and looking at his dead grandfather laying in an oak coffin. "It was dark
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outside and cold and no wind." This bleak opening beckons, yet the seventeen year-old boy at the center of this scene and the novel is nothing if not bleak in his aspect. Cormac McCarthy blends gritty realism with mystical dreams of horses and meditations on the meaning of fate and life and horses in this mesmerizing novel of a young man's quest for love and life and, ultimately, redemption.
What makes this novel great? Is it the archtypeal experiences of a young man's first love, of the pains of that and the initiation into the violence and reality of the west? It is this and more as McCarthy seems to mix the quotidian details of ranch life with just the right balance of mythic phantasmagorial imaginings. Just as his prose seems to be over-the-top he suddenly returns to the Beckett-like dialogue of two buddies alone on the prairie. One example of this occurs when he is out on the mesa with his buddy Lacey Rawlins--his Sancho to at least the extent that his adventures approached the Quixotic--when one evening a few nights later he is approched by Alejandra, the daughter of the Ranch owner. Two pages and many nights together riding their horses up and swimming in the lake until; "She was so pale in the lake she seemed to be burning. Like foxfire in darkened wood." (p 141) She beckons and he says yes and just as the scene reaches a mystic climax we return to the world of the two buddies. The dynamic tension is like the immediate break from fortissimo to piano in a Beethoven Symphony.
The story of John Grady Cole takes many turns and he looks back at regrets while going forward on his own personal quest. One constant question that is raised like a drumbeat accompanying his actions is what does fate have in store for him. Alejandra's grandaunt and godmother is the Duena Alfonsa who is the matriarch of the family. Like several of the characters she eventually relates her story to John Grady Cole. Not the least important aspect of this his her view of fate, "Yes. We'll see what fate has in store for us, won't we?" (p 241). McCarthy presents a complex world and John Grady Cole dives into it with the fervor of innocence. The excitement is watching him lose that innocence while maintaining a sort of fervor for life, at least for the life that he chooses for himself.
"That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the grounand the flowers ran all blue and yellow as far as the eye could see . . . and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them . . . " (p 163)
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LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
John Grady Cole runs away with his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, and they to go Mexico to start a new life. Along the way they meet Jimmy Blevins, a train wreck of a boy, and later they end up working at ranch, where Cole falls in love with the daughter of the ranch's owner, Alejandra. The
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relationship is discovered, Cole and Rawlins have to flee for their lives, and along the way they encounter severe injustice.

So much for the basic plot.

This is a hard novel. The writing style is...well stylistic. (It helps if you can read Spanish.) CcCarthy's style is direct and immediate, and throws you into the center of the action, which, sometimes, is exactly where you do not want to be.

This is not a lite read, but it is a rewarding read.
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LibraryThing member zip_000
I don't know why, but I think this is the second time that I've read a McCarthy book immediately after reading part of Proust's, In Search of Lost Time. It isn't the smoothest of transitions from one style to another.

I think part of the reason that I've done this twice, though not consciously, is
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because of this quote that I heard about McCarthy...from Wikipedia:
"McCarthy is described as a "gregarious loner" and reveals that he is not a fan of authors who do not "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. "I don't understand them," he said. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange."

I can only think that he hasn't read Proust. It is about life and death. Sure it isn't as visceral as McCarthy, but what other writer is? This quote puts a bad taste in my mouth, and leaves me wanting to not like McCarthy's writing, but I don't.

On to the actual book review...

His language is so sparse, bleak, and beautiful that I find it hard to believe that his earlier books were not set in the west as well. I can't picture this style as working in Appalachia...though I suppose The Road was set there as well...but it's different when it is post apocalyptic. I haven't read any of his before Blood Meridian, but I will eventually.

This is another one of those books where I've already seen the movie, and that to some extent ruins the book. Not nearly as badly as No Country for Old Men...which I read just a few months after seeing the movie. In this case, I saw the movie many years ago, and only remember a few random bits.
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
His grandfather dies, giving his father the chance to sell the ranch. His mother leaves to become an actress. For 16-year-old John Grady Cole, this gives him impetus to travel with his best friend Lacey Rawlins to Mexico for a life change. They set out from San Angelo on horseback, traveling the
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rough stark rugged country that creates the broder between the U.S. and Mexico, sleeping at night in the tall grasses trekking through arroyos and crossing streams. Before reachign the border, a young sharpshooter named Jimmy Blevins catches up with them and joins them for a short while as they venture into Mexico. Until during a storm, Blevins loses his horse and sets out to find him. John and Rawlins continue on, eventually finding work at a hacienda rounding up and breaking in wild horses. John also finds himself attracted to the hacendado's daughter Alejandra. And the attraction seems to be mutual.

But this new easy life is not as idyllic as John would hope, once the police come looking for him and Rawlins. The boy Blevins found his horse and killed a few people along the way and implicated John and Rawlins as well. The hacendado gives them up to the police, and they soon learn hard lessons about life and justice in a Mexican prison.

I only recently began to enjoy McCarthy's works, with my reading of The Road last year. Very easy-going with his style which hearkens to Faulkner -- only much more readable. Dialogue and scenic descriptions flow very naturally in a very vivid manner, and I found myself getting caught up with this young cowboy trying his luck in a new country. I felt along with him as he discovered his love for Alejandra his pain during the fight in the prison and his guilt at killing someone, all the while remaining true to himself and to his beliefs. And though the story is set in the 1940's-1950's, it reads as though it were a traditional Western set in the late 1800's with very few mentions of cars or electrical lights or other modern conveniences.

A quiet but powerful novel about coming of age and a great introduction to McCarthy's Border Trilogy.
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LibraryThing member petescisco
A tremendous artistic effort, it makes few sacrifices to indulge the reader or the author. Dense, alive -- a master at work.
LibraryThing member uryjm
I liked one of the blurbs on this book, which summed up a lot of the enjoyment of the novel for me, namely that McCarthy's cowboys can say more by spitting on the ground than most other novelists can achieve with dialogue in a whole book. True. The plot did sometimes seem as leisurely and laconic
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as a three day ride in the desert, and there is no doubt that the vision and vistas of the American West were poetically portrayed, giving the novel a style a character of its own. Whether I'll rush to read the second and third books of the trilogy remains to be seen.
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LibraryThing member John
All the Pretty Horses is the second McCarthy novel that I have read, following Blood Meridian. There are similarities in the physical location of the untamed borderlands of the Texas-Mexico, and the main protagonist in this novel is a sixteen year old boy (John Grady Cole) who leaves home with a
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friend (seventeen years old) to wander and live whatever life throws up to them. However, All the Pretty Horses is less dark, less violent, less ornate in its use of language; the story is more straight-forward and it actually has redeeming human interactions of love, comradeship, respect, loyalty, all of which were much less evident in Blood Meridian. The writing is trademark McCarthy with wonderful descriptions of land, sky, weather; he really is an artist and language is his palette. The characters are deceptively simple, but more complex in their individualities.

At one point, the elderly aunt of a young woman (the daughter of the wealthy ranch owner for whom John Grady, who is a master at riding and handling horses, and his friend work in Mexico), tells John Grady why she cannot allow the love affair between the two young people to continue. It is the most extended dialogue in the book. The aunt says, "...I will never know what her life is. If there is a pattern there it will not shape itself to anything these eyes can recognize. Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or whether these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing." The aunt does not believe in fate; rather she sees much of life as a series of random events, timing, circumstance, and luck. This is exactly how John Grady and his friend have been living their lives (as do almost all the characters in Blood Meridian), but at the same time the aunt says that she has no sympathy with people to whom things simply happen: "It may be that their luck is bad, but is that to count in their favor?". At some point, "we cannot escape naming responsibility" and what she wants for her niece is that, "if she does not come to value what is true above what is useful it will make little difference whether she lives at all. And by true, I do mot mean what is righteous but merely what is so." The young woman, although she loves John Grady, will not break her pledge to her aunt to break off the relationship. She is devastated by the effect of her father finding out: "I didn't know that he would stop loving me. I didn't know he could. Now I know". After a last day and night together, at the train station, "...she touched the silver chain at her throat and turned away and bent to pick up the suitcase and then leaned and kissed him one last time her face all wet and then she was gone. He watched her go as if he himself were in some dream."

John Grady departs on a Quixote quest retrieve his horses, taken when he and his friend were arrested by the Mexican militia, and then to try to find the owner of one particular horse. He is not successful, and the novel ends with John Grady riding across a Texas plain, watched by some indians:

"The indians stood watching him. He could see that none of them spoke among themselves or commented on his riding there nor did they raise a hand in greeting or call out to him. They had no curiosity about him at all. As if they knew all they needed to know. They stood and watched him pass and watched him vanish upon that landscape solely because he was passing. Solely because he would vanish....He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among the dry bracken and the horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come."

In the big scheme of things, in broad historical moments or movements, most individual lives count for nothing. Each will vanish, unremembered, unheralded. But each, in its own right, buffeted by the twists and turns of coincidence and timing and place, was an individual of hopes and dreams, happiness and sorrow.
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