All the Pretty Horses Essay - Critical Essays

Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy is the author of five previous novels, at least three of which—OUTER DARK, SUTTREE, and BLOOD MERIDIAN—are as good as any novel published in English since the 1960’s, when McCarthy made his debut. While many of his fellow writers have acknowledged McCarthy’s achievements, his work has not received widespread notice—a neglect attributable in part to his uncompromising artistry but also to his reclusive nature. His new novel, however, was preceded by an excerpt in ESQUIRE and a profile in THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE; now, for the first time, a McCarthy novel has appeared on the best-seller list.

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is identified on the title page as the first volume of THE BORDER TRILOGY; the following two volumes, Knopf has announced, will appear in 1993 and 1994. The novel begins in 1949 on a ranch in Texas, where the grandfather of the sixteen-year-old protagonist, John Grady Cole, has just died. John Grady’s parents are estranged. His father returned from the war permanently damaged; his mother has no interest in keeping the ranch once the grandfather dies. Denied his patrimony, denied a life on the ranch that has been the center of his existence, John Grady sets out on horseback with a friend to cross the border into Mexico.

The narrative that follows is highly stylized: part fable, part tall tale, a modern-day Western brimming with adventure, love, and revenge, told in lyrical, hypnotic language that veers perilously close to self-parody. Joyce and Faulkner may come to mind as stylistic forebears, but the voice is unmistakably McCarthy’s. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is a coming-of-age story, an elegy for a vanishing way of life, and—McCarthy’s trademark—a study of good and evil as they are worked out in human destinies.

THE BORDER TRILOGY is a work in progress; the jury will stay out until 1994. Meanwhile, many readers will be impatient for that second volume.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, April 1, 1992, p. 1412.

Chicago Tribune. May 10, 1992, XIV, p. 5.

The Christian Science Monitor. June 11, 1992, p. 13.

Commonweal. CXIX, September 25, 1992, p. 29.

Library Journal. CXVII, May 15, 1992, p. 120.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 17, 1992, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, May 17, 1992, p. 9.

Newsweek. CXIX, May 18, 1992, p. 68.

Publishers Weekly. March 16, 1992, p. 64.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, May 3, 1992, p. 1.