All The Pretty Horses / Cormac McCarthy

The first volume of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy,” All The Pretty Horses tells the story of seventeen-year-old John Grady Cole.  He is the last of a long line of Texas ranchers, grief stricken that the family ranch is about to be put up for sale.  The year is 1949 and times are changing; the Wild West is no longer quite so wild.  But just a short distance south across the Mexican border, the modern world has yet to make much of an impression.  Its landscape remains desolate, rugged, and requires a weapon for self-protection.  For someone like Cole who loves horses and the unsettled badlands, Mexico is a place he cannot resist.  With a friend, he sets out on what at first seems to be an idyllic adventure.  As the story moves deeper into Mexican territory, however, it leads these two young men to a lawless region where cruelty and violence are common occurrences.  McCarthy captures the beauty and the danger of northern Mexico with lovely prose that brings its flora and fauna vividly alive.  The novel is a western in the sense that it features horses, gunfights, and cowboys.  But it transcends that genre and stands out as a modern classic.  It was a winner of both the National Book Award for Fiction and the National Critics Circle Award for Fiction. While the tone of the book darkens in its second half, McCarthy’s prose throughout reads like the best poetry.  He is a master storyteller and one of America’s best practicing authors.

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