A Dream of Horses
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
"They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness." (p 30)
The story begins in a room lit by candle light with John Grady Cole wearing a black suit and looking at his dead grandfather laying in an oak coffin. "It was dark outside and cold and no wind." This bleak opening beckons, yet the seventeen year-old boy at the center of this scene and the novel is nothing if not bleak in his aspect. Cormac McCarthy blends gritty realism with mystical dreams of horses and meditations on the meaning of fate and life and horses in this mesmerizing novel of a young man's quest for love and life and, ultimately, redemption.
What makes this novel great? Is it the archtypeal experiences of a young man's first love, of the pains of that and the initiation into the violence and reality of the west? Is it the beauty of words strung together in phrases that take your breath away? It is these and more as McCarthy succeeds in mixing the quotidian details of ranch life with just the right balance of mythic phantasmagorical imaginings. Just as his prose seems to be over-the-top he suddenly returns to the Beckett-like dialogue of two buddies alone on the prairie. One example of this occurs when he is out on the mesa with his buddy Lacey Rawlins--his Sancho to at least the extent that his adventures approached the Quixotic--when one evening a few nights later he is approached by Alejandra, the daughter of the Ranch owner. Two pages and many nights together riding their horses up and swimming in the lake until; "She was so pale in the lake she seemed to be burning. Like foxfire in darkened wood." (p 141) She beckons and he says yes and just as the scene reaches a mystic climax we return to the world of the two buddies. The dynamic tension is like the immediate break from fortissimo to piano in a Beethoven Symphony.
The story of John Grady Cole takes many turns and he looks back at regrets while going forward on his own personal quest. One constant question that is raised like a drumbeat accompanying his actions is what does fate have in store for him. Alejandra's grandaunt and godmother is the Duena Alfonsa who is the matriarch of the family. Like several of the characters she eventually relates her story to John Grady Cole. Not the least important aspect of this is her view of fate, "Yes. We'll see what fate has in store for us, won't we?" (p 241). McCarthy presents a complex world and John Grady Cole dives into it with the fervor of innocence. The excitement is watching him lose that innocence while maintaining a sort of fervor for life, at least for the life that he chooses for himself.
"That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow as far as the eye could see . . . and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them . . . " (p 163)
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