On Men, Guns and Horses (oh, and a love story too)

“In his sleep he could hear the horses stepping among the rocks and he could hear them drink from the shallow pools in the dark where the rocks lay smooth and rectilinear as the stones of ancient ruins and the water from their muzzles dripped and rang like water dripping in a well and in his sleep 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 their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again.”

Well I finally finished All the Pretty Horses and I must say it’s been quite a journey. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that my journey as a reader mirrored that of John Grady Cole, the protagonist of the book, but where my appreciation of this novel is concerned, there have been plenty of difficult passages, more than one surprising development, as well as rich rewards. As some of you regulars to this blog know, my experience with this book started on what I could only call shaky ground. When we are first introduced to John Grady, who is the last in a long line of ranchers, his grandfather has just passed away and soon John Grady learns he will be left with no land to continue in the family tradition. This is what prompts his decision to get away, though he never goes as far as describing what his intentions are, being a man of few words. For the first 40 pages or so describing the start of the journey, McCarthy only referred to John Grady Cole and other people he encounters as “he” and “she” and I was completely lost, barely able to figure out who was who. Unsurprisingly, the questions of “who what where when and why” were left unanswered, or were vaguely sketched out at best, perhaps with the exception of the “where”: we were starting out on a small Texas ranch, soon to be put up for sale, and heading toward Mexico. As for the “when” it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book but I found out that the story takes place in 1948. Still, I may have managed just fine, only I was also struggling to make sense of McCarthy’s other idiosyncrasies adopted for this book. This included the use of compounded polysyndetonic sentences (use of many and sometimes unnecessary conjunctions) which could sometimes run for whole paragraphs, as shown above*, as well as the omission of punctuation, such as quotation marks, which sometimes made it almost impossible to keep track of whom was saying what. This is the point at which I went into my tirade (click here to read it), though knowing how much beloved this book was by so many readers, I decided to forge on to the 100th page before deciding whether to go on or not. Then, as if by some magic, when I picked up the book to go on reading, it was as if a thick veil was removed and I was finally able to appreciate McCarthy’s brilliant writing, his love of storytelling which often resided in the scrupulous attention given to the various landscapes and settings, the flora and fauna, the people and the horses of course, who form the central theme of this story.

There are of course many other elements to the narrative. There is a love story of course, which many agree is the central element in this book. While I think the love story is one important element which has many ramifications, in my opinion the element on which the story rests (other than the horses of course) is actually just a kid. As the cousins reach Mexico on their horses, they are followed by, and then meet a young boy claiming to be sixteen, astride a horse which looks much too good for him, which leads John Grady and especially Rawlins to assume it has been stolen. The boy, who has a gun but no provisions nor water nor money claims his name is Jimmy Blevins and soon trails along with them into Mexico. Rawlins takes an instant disliking to him, claiming Blevins will surely get them into serious trouble. As we soon find out, Blevin does in fact inadvertently instigate a chain of events which fuel much of the drama and adventure throughout the novel, which is a Western story above all, one about men, guns and horses, and one exquisitely told.

Final word: the writing warrants a 2nd and 3rd reading which would surely yield further satisfaction, and as another reader said “I’m not sure why [McCarthy] chose to dispense with speech marks along with most punctuation, though I can guess, but by gum if you can write like that you can just do what you like.”

I ended up giving it: ★★★★½ (just like people, some books take time warming up to).

*I would simply like to point out that by the time I got to that paragraph I was fully enjoying the flow of the writing and this drawn out sentence touched me deeply, as it was meant to.


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