Books in the Club: Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
This woman who had worked for his family fifty years. She had cared for his mother as a baby and she had worked for his family long before his mother was born and she had known and cared for his mother as a baby and she had known and cared for the wild Grady boys who were his mother's uncles and who had all died so long ago and he stood holding his hat and he called her his abuela and he said goodbye to her in spanish and then turned and put on his hat and turned his wet face to the wind and for a moment he held out his hands as if to steady himself or as if to bless the ground there or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead.
So, McCarthy doesn't care much for the conventions of standard written English. As is demonstrated in the quote above, which consists of a totally un-punctuated, 151 word sentence, and three fragments. And it is beautiful. I really appreciate McCarthy's language. The numbing quality of his long passages describing the bleakness of the landscape. The strange pacing, from slow and plodding to suddenly quick. The imagined compound words that erase the unnecessary borders between things which are really one (candleflame, for instance).
We read All the Pretty Horses for my book club, and it is the third and a half (?) book that I've read of McCarthy's. I finished reading it about two months before we met to discuss it, and I have a terrible memory, so it was difficult for me to remember all that I wanted to say about it, and the case is the same here. The book is the story of a young Texan, John Grady, who leaves home to find an adventure across the border in Mexico. He and his friend, Rawlins, eventually meet a third, the crazy, young, and potentially criminal, Blevins. The three travel together, and find something both darker, and more affecting than what they expected. A lot happens in the book, but it can feel like nothing at all is happening in the long passages as they ride across the desert. A lot about the book is traditional coming-of-age type/ loss of innocence stuff. However, Grady's innocence is not only a result of his youth, but also because he is an American, for whom the border is only an imaginary line. It is only when he crosses it, that it moves from the symbolic to the real, and he is left to face the consequences of his assumptions. If you have seen the movie, you know there is a love plot, which is much less emphasized in the book, but is there. Again, the relationship reveals more about cultural assumptions than about romance.
This wasn't my favorite McCarthy, nor will it be among my favorites of the year. However, I do really appreciate the layers of meaning in the novel, which only appear as you, the reader, begin to peel them away. We discussed in my book club, the deceptive simplicity of the prose, comparing the writing to Hemingway. I think that McCarthy could always benefit from a reread, and I am planning on giving one of those to Blood Meridian soon.
Title: All The Pretty HorsesAuthor: Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction, Western
Where I got it: Bought it
Challenges: Mount TBR