In American literature, there's McCarthy and there's everybody else. Seriously every single stark staccato line of this novel is beautiful in and of itself. He can describe fifty sunsets in the span of a hundred pages and you'd read every single one of them appreciatively and with new eyes. I think the thing I like best about McCarthy's novels is that nothing is wasted - not a word, a character, a scene or environment. You can feel a sense of purpose in the way the wind blows and the way a man gets dressed in a way that you just don't or can't in a lot of other people's works. All the Pretty Horses
is a coming of age story, and like all McCarthy stories, it's about hard lessons learned the hardest way possible. Sixteen year old John Grady Cole is about to lose everything that matters to him. The death of his grandfather means the dissolution of the family ranch and the horse culture that he knows and loves. Grady packs up and with his friend Rawlins seek out the old life in Mexico. This story is a rite of passage story, elliptical in many respects. When we're introduced to Grady's father early in the novel, you can sense the weight of the world and the life he's suffered to live pressing down upon him and it stands in stark contrast to the youthful optimism and naiveté of the younger man. In a way, the story of the younger Grady is the story of his father. It's a story of how young idealistic men become old, hard, beaten and weathered. The details may vary, but by the end of his experiences and at the tender age of seventeen, John Grady becomes his father. It's not a depressing story, per se. John Grady loves and loses, is tested, fails, triumphs and learns.
I think it's always hard for me to get into a McCarthy mood. I know it's going to be heavy and its going to suck me in and leave me exhausted after, but like all of his other books, once you start you really do get lost. The Texas-Mexico border is a place of surprising and senseless violence, corruption and pain - a hard existence that stands in stark contrast to the beauty that McCarthy sees in the physical landscape and the promise that such untamed lands hold. McCarthy also takes advantage of a rich historical context to comment upon the inner battles between idealism and cynicism, of revolutionary zeal and community action and an acceptance of corruption and isolation as a fact of life.