All The Pretty Horses – Review

All the Pretty Horses is the first tale in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Border Trilogy.’ It centers around the innocent but principled John Grady Cole who, with his best friend Lacey Rawlins, take their horses and head to Mexico to seek a life that is compatible with their conception for how life should be. It is 1948, WWII is over, and the world is changing and they don’t like it.  Mexico is their Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The novel is softer in tone and image than the other McCarthy novels I have read (The Road and Child of God), playing out as a coming of age story for the young protagonist. Because of this, some of the violence seems forced – largely when it involves John Grady Cole. While the violence perpetrated against the protagonists seems possible, even natural given the flow and direction of the story, it is just difficult to put some actions with the lead character.

Towards the end of the novel, Cole visits a judge who, earlier in the day, ruled in his favor in a case involving a horse Cole was trying to return to its owner and was accused of stealing. Cole expresses regret for some of the things he had to do in Mexico and some of the things he chose to do. As this is a story about growing up, where the trip to Mexico and then back to the United States plays as a rite of passage into manhood, this makes sense. What McCarthy smartly does is leave Cole unsure of the rightness of his actions while the judge effectively tell, ‘that’s life.”  While Grady is less of a child than he was when he left, it is clear he still has a ways to go yet.

Though there is something else to Grady’s innocence and lackof surity in the rightness of his actions, regardless of their necessity, that speaks to the greater evil of the world. Regardless of our personal inclinations, circumstances may push us beyond what we believe to be the limits of our abilities and the boundaries of our morals. This is something that I think is touched on in The Road but, in this latter novel, McCarthy’s protagonists use the line drawn between their unwillingness to cross certain moral boundaries (such as cannibalism) to differentiate themselves in a fundemental way. I wonder if McCarthy’s view of life and how circumstances shape our lives and how moral/physical choices shape our lives has changed.

As always, here’s the Amazon link.

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