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All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Disappointing. So, for years, I’ve been trying to fit a Cormac McCarthy novel into my reading list, but I never quite found time for it between school readings and personal readings I had already decided on. Finally, I bought his National Book Award winning novel, All the Pretty Horses, and resolved to read it.

I have to say … this book was, at best, disappointing. At worst, it is horrible.

[NOTE: To those of you who have not read this book yet, but mean to, don't read below, because I am going to talk about the story.]

[NOTE II: To those of you who have not read this book yet ... do yourself a favor and read below.]

The basic premise. So, the story centers around this sixteen-year-old kid named John Grady and his seventeen-year-old friend Rawlins. John Grady’s family ranch is being sold, and his parents are divorced and dysfunctional, so this is the perfect reason for him and Rawlins to head down into Mexico. “Wait … but why are they heading down to Mexico?” I told you! Because his family’s ranch is being sold! “But … I mean, is there something down there? Like, do they have a plan?” Ranch! His ranch was sold! What other option did he have but to head down to Mexico?!

Anyway, John Grady goes down into Mexico, and he is the best at everything. Apparently, he’s the best ranch hand in all of Mexico, and if you put him in the toughest Mexican prison, he’ll be able to best their toughest guy. This is the central issue with the story … John Grady is perfect, and he is sixteen. I don’t know if McCarthy has ever met a sixteen-year-old before in his life, but they are pretty much useless. Still, John Grady is a model employee, breaking horses and teaching his rich ranch-owning boss all about horses. He’s wooing women, performing frontier medicine, fighting off large groups of men who want to do him harm, etc. He’s pretty much the best at everything … or at least, he’s better than anyone in Mexico, which makes me wonder if this is sort of a racist book. I mean, think about it. A sixteen-year-old Texan from a broken home is more skilled, smart, and impressive than every man in Mexico? Kinda weak.

So, John Grady is terrible, and soon, I began wishing for some angry hombre to plug him in the back of the head. Another terrible character is the woman of John Grady’s lusts, Alejandra. She’s the rich, ranch owner’s daughter. She’s well-bred and cultured, but high-spirited and wild … in need of taming (KIND OF LIKE THE HORSES JOHN GRADY IS BREAKING?! WHAT?!). She’s beautiful and rich, and of course, they fall in love for no more apparent reason than they are both the worst characters in the book.

The cliches continue. Alejandra has a rich aunt (her mother is nowhere to be found) that wants to protect her honor. She does not like this John Grady character and forbids them from seeing each other, essentially pushing the two into each other’s beds (which by the way, John Grady seems expert in as well).

Why people like it, I assume. The book isn’t all bad. McCarthy has a sharp and colorful writing voice, and his ability to make the scene feel real is quite impressive. The reader gets a good sense of the badlands of Mexico, and McCarthy gives the impression that he knows a great deal about horses … even if he doesn’t know anything about characters.

I will say that I found some of his attempts to create a realistic picture irritating. For example, the Mexicans almost always speak Spanish to him, and we, as readers, must draw from context clues what is being said (if we are not fluent in Spanish). Most times this works out well, but there are a few scenes where I had no idea what happened. Frustrating.

Conclusion? Well, I have to say, this was disappointing. I’m hoping to get over it and give him another chance with his book Blood Meridian … but I will need some time. It’s a bad thing when the reader hates the main character, and McCarthy did himself no favors by leaning on tired old cliches all the time. I mean, the guy rides off into the sunset at the end. Seriously.

Judging by what I found on the web, the response to this book seems quite positive. Most people seem to love it, and many people I know recommended it. What did I miss?

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