Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

“…he knew that the life there was unimaginable to him.” 

These words by McCarthy epitomize what I believe this author does so well: he helps you imagine a life that was unimaginable to you before. 

McCarthy sees you. Oh yes he does. He watches, and he waits. He brings a bucket with him and sits in the corner and sh*ts in the bucket if he needs to so that he doesn’t have to leave so he can watch. And then he sees it. That thought that crosses your mind, but is so soon buried again. But he saw the shadow cross your face. He grabs that fear, walks away with it, whispering sweet nothings to revive it and keep it throbbing just long enough to get it under his pen. He writes it into places of the world you think you know about, but you really don’t, and most of the time would rather not. Some of that life is as romantic and adventurous as you had hoped, maybe more-so, and other parts are exactly what you feared were true and tried to insulate yourself against. He reminds you that there really is such a thing as torture, despair, betrayal, agonizing deaths—especially of the young and innocent—and, in some cases, lives that end with a sense of meaninglessness once and for all. Don’t get me wrong, none of this is able to unravel the beauty and heroism present in his narratives, but one gets the feeling that he is not at all interested in a final reconciliation of horror and beauty, two irreducible ends of a tension that strains McCarthy's world. 

“He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that…in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”

 He believes in the best and the worst, and helps you to believe in them too, probably because he’s not sure that either could exist without the other. He’s brave and tells incredible stories, and I get the sense that he loves life and people to his core. 

That being said, while All the Pretty Horses was a fairly exciting book, it didn’t quite take me over the top. I feel like I have a better grasp about the kind of life a wondering cowboy would have experienced crossing into Mexican territory in the mid-twentieth century, and I was fairly engaged throughout the entire read, but I’m not sure it moved me enough to read any more of the “Border Trilogy.” Don’t get me wrong, I think McCarthy is an incredible writer, but I suppose from my standpoint the plot had more depth than the characters. Also, I probably value a strong message above all else, and I don’t feel it delivered any new or reinforced way to think about life for me personally, which, again is how I rate a book, based on what it does for me. The persona of John Grady, the protagonist, was a bit too grandiose and cavalier to be honest. He was a cowboy’s cowboy and was absolutely perfect—too perfect actually—at taming horses, wooing women, dissembling a gun and using very specific parts to cauterize bullet wounds, and killing kids in prison knife-fights. He was more John Wayne than John Wayne. I’m not sure even McCarthy is aware of the level of his idealism, probably thinking himself a pretty realistic guy by writing things like, “In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments. Those whom life does not cure, death will. The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality, even where we will not. Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.” Seems true enough, but these words were spoken through the cold-blooded aunt who represented more the pessimist, which contrasted with John Grady’s determined optimism and, in my opinion, the naiveté of McCarthy’s preferred hero. He was a character which, in the end, seemed to distant from the sorrows of the world which McCarthy seems so interested in convincing his readers of.

Although I certainly don’t hold the satisfying and resolving components against this story, I feel that the arc just did what it was expected to do, and not much else. There were some great one-liners of course, as is typical with McCarthy, but it is a book I’ll probably never go back to. And I suppose I am also frustrated that he had so much Spanish in the dialogue so that any reader without basic Spanish would have no clue what exactly was said. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would love that sort of thing, and it may very well have been brilliant of McCarthy to include something for his polyglot devotees; but I don’t know Spanish, so I’m one of the one’s who didn’t appreciate it so much.

Overall, the book was a decent read, and while it was not completely to my taste, I can understand why some McCarthy admirers rave about his stuff. I think he is an extremely talented writer. There. Can I be done without being sniped by a fanboy? Don’t hurt me.

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