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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses is a stone of a novel, both hardened to the core and sharp around the edges. It is the story of John Grady Cole, a young man who travels to Mexico in hopes of working and one day owning a ranch. John Grady grew up on his grandfather's west Texas ranch and a life of working with land and horses was all he knew. When his grandfather dies, John Grady is faced with both losing his only family and his way of life forcing him to realize, at the tender age of sixteen, the true isolation of man. He then travels to Mexico in search of the connection he needs, not to man (though he does have a traveling companion) but to nature, the spirit of the world.

As John Grady settles into the life he is able to forge for himself in Mexico he returns to his commune with nature and spending his days working horses. These are the best passages in the novel. The spirit of the horses is so beautifully described; they are animals that we have tamed yet they are wholly wild and their own. It is obvious that McCarthy shares with his characters the respect he imbues upon them of the marvelous beasts. To McCarthy and John Grady horses are of a joined soul. Unhappy in isolation and thriving in communal groups, they are established as the opposite of humans. In every instance in this novel it is groups of humans that cause trouble for one another. Our lot is isolation because only alone are we free from the tyranny of others. Even John Grady's first love leads to the bleakest depths, loss of freedom, loss of innocence, and loss of life.

The novel depicts a world view of life in the nasty, brutish and short vein, as when an older character warns John Grady of trouble and loss saying: "In January I will be seventy-three years old. I have known a great many people in that time and few of them led lives that were satisfactory to them." My perception of John Grady is as a symbol of McCarthy's thoughts on isolation. Human interaction is a dangerous business, and characters like John Grady (those that are tied to nature or pursuits outside of society) are far better off away from others in a more natural state. One that understands isolation and feeds on it instead of fighting it. It is a dark view, but this is a dark novel. It is also a beautiful novel, fully realized and vividly described. Definitely worth the read.



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