Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Monday, October 28, 2013
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1)
Genre: Western
Publisher: Vintage
Series: The Border Trilogy #1
Age Group: Adult
Source: Borrowed
The national bestseller and the first volume in Cormac McCarthy'sBorder TrilogyAll the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself.  With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.
Summary from Goodreads. 

As anyone who read my review of The Road knows, that book made me fall in love with McCarthy's writing style. I went into All the Pretty Horses expecting to similarly love the prose, which I did... however I didn't connect with this book in the same way.

First of all, ATPH is a *slow* read, in that the first 150 pages felt like the reading equivalent of being stuck behind someone driving at 15 mph on a 50 mph road. And while that may be a bit hyperbolic, you get the idea; if I hadn't been reading this for class, I'm not certain whether I would have continued. However, my teacher did promise it would improve after page 150 and that proved to be true (though if half of a book is so dull, is it worth reading for a fantastic ending half?).

But even in the first half, I did really like and sympathize with John Grady's character. This boy has been through so much- his parents neglect him, he's lost his closest family member, his mother is selling his childhood home, and that's not all. On top of all this, he's clinging to traditional frontier-esque values in a world that's increasingly embracing new technology. And yes, this is sad and on one hand you may want to pity him, but it's also really admirable and kind of incredible that he is able to maintain his idealism.

The other characters are great, too. Rawlins (JG's best friend), at least in the beginning, is good for a few chuckles and I really wanted to give Blevins (a companion they meet along the way) a hug (though I get the sense that he wouldn't like that very much). My favorite character, however, is Duena Alfonsa. She's such a complex character and her back story combined with her intelligence, independence, and cynicism made me want to read a whole book about her alone.

One minor aspect that irked me was the way Spanish is used. I'm pretty good at figuring out root words and since I take French, I could figure out a lot of what was being said. Also, I have no problem if foreign languages are used in a few lines of a story to add to the atmosphere. It's another thing entirely, though, if I have to interrupt my reading to go translate an entire paragraph or page.

Ultimately, there is a lot to get out of All the Pretty Horses, but I'm not sure it's worth the initial frustration. Hardcore McCarthy fans may like it, but as a relatively new McCarthy reader, it isn't going to be one of my favorite books.
*3 stars*
A Quote from the Book: "We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been."

Do you think a book is worth reading if the beginning is rough? What if it's the opposite situation and the ending is weak?


  1. ugh, I felt the same way! Though I DID put it down unfinished, so I never got to the better part. It was just SO sllooooww, and I had the same complaint about the large amount of Spanish in the text. I just couldn't continue, which was a huge disappointment because I loved The Road (which I've heard is his most accessible).

    I liked No Country For Old Men (though not nearly as much as The Road), so you might want to try that if you're interested in giving him another shot. I like how it almost works as a kind of thematic companion novel to The Road, though TR is the optimistic, uplifting one of the two.

    1. Oh, I might try No Country For Old Men! If it makes TR seem uplifting, though, it must be pretty bleak!

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