All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy, A+ ~ BitterSweetLife

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy, A+

Flash Review: Sagebrush, Blood & Conscience

Newsweek described Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece as “a modern-day Western full of horses and gunplay and romance.” Fair enough. This characterization could be misleading, however, if “Western” makes you think of Clint Eastwood or The Three Amigos. All the Pretty Horses is framed with absolute conviction in the context of Texas and Mexico, but all ties to spaghetti Westerns, whoopin’ and hollerin,’ end there.

McCarthy’s saga is a haunting book with more in common with Ernest Hemingway than Zane Grey. The scenes are vivid, the writing is tough and beautiful, the plotting and pace are perfect. The central characters grab at your loyalty insistently and don’t let go. John Grady, whose personality serves as an epic and a morality play in its own right, earned more emotional rapport with me than any book-character in recent memory.

He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.

I felt a sense of loss when I closed this book. (The good news is that it’s part one in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.) To make an unfair comparison, All the Pretty Horses is what Cold Mountain absolutely failed to be: A poetic-but-gritty adventure, told with a strong voice, and conveying the lingering splendor of a cold, clear sunrise.

Listed on the Master Book List.



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5 comments:

John B. said...

Now you've done it: you've not just reviewed, you've quoted from my absolute favorite prose stylist. And I do have things to do, just now.
I don't know if you know this, but McCarthy is something of a lapsed Catholic, like a really bleak O'Connor.
I can't let this moment pass without saying, first of all, that ATPH indeed has beautiful, powerful prose; it's McCarthy's "prettiest" book. His first "Western," though, Blood Meridian, is his masterpiece. Its brutal violence is not for the faint of heart--nor is its worldview for the philosophically squeamish. But what gorgeous, soaring language. Another novel, Outer Dark, is a short, very very dark meditation on the wages of sins of (c)omission.
And he has a new one coming out this month. It doesn't sound very "pretty," either . . . which means that I'll most likely love it, too.

e-Mom said...

Whoa Nellie! What a quote! Backward though, to redemptive truth.

I'd say instead, "He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of single flower might ultimately be exacted for a vision of the multitudes." Or some such thing.

Overall, a nice review.

Ariel said...

"I don't know if you know this, but McCarthy is something of a lapsed Catholic, like a really bleak O'Connor."

No, wasn't aware. Merely going by what I read in All the Pretty Horses, I didn't feel like I'd settled McCarthy's worldview...especially given that the book is part 1 of 3. The spiritual overtones come through clearly, though, if darkly.

"What a quote! Backward though, to redemptive truth."

Yes...though appropriate for that moment in the novel. McCarthy's approach to conscience, virtue, and redemption seem to be roundabout, as hinted by John, above.

Your re-formulation of the sentence is closer to the truth, of course.

Ched said...

This is a brilliant book. In my undergraduate work, I took a "literature of the west" class. This was my favorite work. McCarthy's prose is so striking, even if you can't stand the absence of quotation marks and non translated spanish. I'm fascinated by the chiastic nature of the narrative, and the role that dreams play in that. McCarthy's sentence structure at times so mirrors reality that he draws you into the action in seeming real-time. For instance, In the fifth paragraph, he begins with three short declaritive sentences: "As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. He could feel it under his feet." With these sentences, we get a feeling of expectation. Then the next sentence is very, very long and garrulous describing the train whirling by. Then, there is a short sentence again: "Then he turned and went back to the house." Here, even the structure of the words conveys the action. Even in reading it, you feel the train pass. What a good paragraph.

Forgive my rambling. I may have gotten way too excited about that paragraph. It isn't every day any more that I get to muse on narrative strategy in works of literature. Good post.

Ariel said...

"Forgive my rambling."

Ha! Not only do I forgive it - I endorse it! Anytime, Ched. Have to admit that I like it when people are into the same books I am...especially when the book-love results in great commentary.

 

Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife