Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

All the Pretty Horses ()

National Book Award Winners (1992)

For the first twenty or thirty years of his career Cormac McCarthy was a little known but critically acclaimed cult author.  Hailed as the heir to Faulkner, his books were Southern gothic--drenched in violence, incest, necrophilia,  etc.  But with the publication of Blood Meridian in 1985, McCarthy began to turn his attention to the American West and in 1992, All the Pretty Horses, the first book in what ended up being his Border Trilogy, established him as a Western author and, not coincidentally, won him the audience and mainstream awards that had previously eluded him.  (The novel won the 1992 National Book Award for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1993.)  It also lead to the inevitable sniping by his adherents; many said he had sold out, others claimed that the mass audience misunderstood the book and that it was much darker than they understood.  The confusion deepened as those of us who had newly discovered him, returned to his earlier work.  I couldn't have been fifty pages into Suttree when someone was having sex in a watermelon patch, with a freakin' watermelon!  I, for one, disliked the Southern books, but love the Westerns.

All the Pretty Horses tells the story of 16 year old John Grady Cole.  The dissolution of his parents' marriage has left him the first of his line in many decades without a family ranch to work, so he sets out on horseback for Mexico to find work. He is accompanied by 17 year old Lacey Rawlins and along the way they meet up with Jimmy Blevins who may be as young as 13.  By turns comic (Blevins is deathly afraid of lightning and ends up losing his clothes and his horse in a storm) and tragic (the boys eventually end up in jail), the book is centered around the relationship between men and horses and cattle and the passing of a way of life that was based on that bond.

McCarthy's prose retains traces of his Faulknerian heritage in the minimal use of punctuation (including the absence of quotation marks in dialogue), the coining of many compound words and the general sense of gloom that pervades much of the story.  But the mythic qualities inherent in the American Western overwhelm any intent he may have had to write an anti-western or to puncture the myths and the novel ends up being in many ways a traditional cowboy tale, merely refracted through a modern lens.

What finally sets it apart and makes it extraordinary is McCarthy's use of language, which manages to be both spare and poetic.  Here is his description of Cole breaking wild horses on a Mexican ranch:

    By the time they had three of the horses sidelined in the trap blowing and glaring about there were
    several vaqueros at the gate drinking coffee in a leisurely fashion and watching  the proceedings.
    By midmorning eight of the horses stood tied and the other eight were wilder than deer, scattering
    along the fence and bunching and running in a rising sea of dust as the day warmed, coming to
    reckon slowly with the remorselessness of this rendering of their fluid and collective selves into that
    condition of separate and helpless paralysis which seemed to be among them like a creeping plague.
    The entire complement of vaqueros had come from the bunkhouse to watch and by noon all sixteen
    of the mestenos were standing about in the portrero sidehobbled to their own hackamores and faced
    about in every direction and all communion among them broken.  They looked like animals trussed
    up by children for fun and they stood waiting for they knew not what with the voice of the breaker
    still running in their brains like the voice of some god come to inhabit them.

Partisans of his early works can scream all they want about how the book is supposed to be standing the conventions of the Western on their head, but the passage above is very much of a piece with our traditional views of cowboys and the West and thanks to McCarthy's lyricism, it rises to the level of mythopoetics.

I believe that this book will one day be numbered among the American classics, with books like Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn and All the King's Men; it's that good.


Grade: (A+)


Cormac McCarthy Links: The Official Website of the Cormac McCarthy Society
    -WIKIPEDIA: Cormac McCarthy
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Road
    -BOOK SITE: The Road (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Cormac McCarthy (IMDB)
    -FILM INFO: The Road (2009) (IMDB)
    -PROFILE: Hollywood's Favorite Cowboy: Author Cormac McCarthy, 76, talked about love, religion, his 11-year-old son, the end of the world and the movie based on his novel 'The Road.' He was just getting going. (JOHN JURGENSEN, 11/13/09, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: Ten things that make Cormac McCarthy special: Novelist, recluse... guest on Oprah. Welcome to Cormac McCarthy country (Christopher Goodwin, 1/20/2008, Times of London)
    -PROFILE: A conversation between author Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, about the new movie No Country for Old Men (TIME, 10/18/07)
    -PROFILE: Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey (Michael Conlon, 6/05/07, Reuters)
    -PROFILE: When Oprah Met Cormac: He's no Salinger. (Troy Patterson, June 6, 2007, Slate)
    -PROFILE: Way out, west: The novelist Cormac McCarthy is the best-kept secret of American letters, but his new book could change all that (GORDON BURN, 4/04/93, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Cormac McCarthy (BLAKE MORRISON, 14 August 1994, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Cormac McCarthy: American literature’s great outsider: Few writers have captured the grandeur and cruelty of the American frontier more vividly than Cormac McCarthy. As the film of his novel 'No Country for Old Men' sweeps the Oscars (Boyd Tonkin, 26 February 2008, Independent)
    -ARTICLE: 'The Road' as Outreach? (Lillian Kwon, 11/13/09, Christian Post)
    -ESSAY: Faith, Fear & Cormac McCarthy (Christopher Badeaux, January 7, 2009, The City)
    -ESSAY: The Hugo award winner that spawned a Pulitzer prize winner: Walter M Miller Jr's A Canticle for Leibowitz is a direct ancestor of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (Sam Jordison, 10/28/08, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice: One Writer, Ten Novels, and a Career-Long Obsession (Scott Esposito , Quarterly Conversation)
    -ESSAY: The New Nuke Porn: Our nuclear fantasies have gotten more hard-core. (Ron Rosenbaum, May 8, 2009, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: John Crace saddles his horse and heads into the desert to hunt down Cormac McCarthy's 1985 XXX-rated western, Blood Meridian (John Crace, 9/24/09,
    -ARCHIVES: cormac mccarthy (Daily Telegraph)
    -ARCHIVES: Cormac McCarthy (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: cormac mccarthy (Independent)
    -ARCHIVES: "cormac mccarthy (Slate)
    -ARCHIVES: Cormac McCarthy (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: for The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Phil Christman, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (William Kennedy, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Chris Cleave, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Todd Shy, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Michael Moorhead, Christian Ethics Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Joseph Kugelmass, The Valve)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ten O'Clock Scholar)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Image)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Jennifer Egan, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Slate Audio Book Club)
    -REVIEW: of The Road ()
    -REVIEW: of The Road (John Holt, California Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Michael Chabon, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Alan Cheuse, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Clive Sinclair, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ed Caesar, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Mark Holcomb, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Alan Warner, Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (George Monbiot, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Victoria Hoyle and Paul Kincaid, Strange Horizons)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Fl;orence Williams, Outside)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Benjamin Whitmer, Modern Word)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Dierdre Donahue, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Chris Barsanti, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (David Hellman, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Niall Griffiths, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Charles McGrath, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of The Road ()
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Gordon Hauptfleisch, Blog Critics)
    -REVIEW: of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (James Wood, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of No Country (John Freeman, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Crossing (Anthony Quinn, Independent)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Cormac McCarthy (IMDB)
    -FILM INFO: The Road (2009) (IMDB)

Book-related and General Links:

    -The Cormac McCarthy Home Pages (The Official Website of the Cormac McCarthy Society)
    -Cormac McCarthy (Random House)
    -Cormac McCarthy: A Bibliography (Dianne Luce)
    -CORMAC MCCARTHY ( Daniel E. Tingle)
    -The Cormac McCarthy Forum
    -Defining the Unseen Deity in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy (Paul Mitchell, Shoot The Messenger)
    -Reclusive McCarthy in spotlight again (USA Today)
    -ESSAY: Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction (Richard B. Woodward, NY Times Book Review)
    -Overlooked: Five direly underappreciated U.S. novels ( David Foster Wallace, Salon)

    -READING GROUP GUIDE: Cities of the Plain and the Border Trilogy (Vintage Books)
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: All the Pretty Horses (Vintage Books)
    -REVIEW: Boys on Horseback, Loose in Mexico  (HERBERT MITGANG, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: The Man Who Understood Horses (Madison Smartt Bell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Dream Work (DENIS DONOGHUE, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of the whole Border Trilogy Sentimental Journey (Vince Passaro, Salon)
*  -REVIEW:  of the whole Border Trilogy Horseman, Ride On (Edwin T. Arnold, World and I)

    -REVIEW: of Blood Meridian IS EVERYBODY DEAD AROUND HERE? (Caryn Jame, NY Times Book Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Crossing Border Crossings, Real and Symbolic (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
   -REVIEW: of The Crossing Travels With A She-Wolf (Robert Hass, NY Times Book Review)
   -REVIEW: Cities of the Plain Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Sara Mosle, NY Times Book Review)
   -REVIEW: Cities of the Plain Moving Along the Border Between Past and Future  (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
   -REVIEW: Cities of the Plain The Sun Also Sets (A.O. SCOTT, NY Review of Books)
   -REVIEW: Cities of the Plain (Charles Dove, Sidewalk)
   -REVIEW: of Cities of the Plain The West's end (Tom Scocca, Boston Phoenix)
   -REVIEW: Cities of the Plain The unsheltering sky (Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe)
   -REVIEW: Plain talk about 'Cities' Cormac McCarthy clumsily closes 'Border Trilogy' (Anne Stephenson, AZ Republic)
   -REVIEW: Plain Speaking--The Long-Awaited Finale To Cormac McCarthy's 'Border Trilogy' Is Another Tribute To The Impossibly Beautiful (Jim Carvalho, Tucson Weekly)
* -REVIEW: Horseman, Ride On (Edwin T. Arnold, World and I)