All the Pretty Horses | Critical Review by Kerry Ahearn

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of All the Pretty Horses.
This section contains 645 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Kerry Ahearn

Critical Review by Kerry Ahearn

SOURCE: A review of All the Pretty Horses, in Western American Literature, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, August, 1993, pp. 182-184.

In the following review, Ahearn provides a brief analysis of All the Pretty Horses, discusses the protagonist's quest, and calls the work "a must read."

After his first four novels, from The Orchard Keeper through Suttree, Cormac McCarthy's regional reputation was Southern, and his renown primarily stylistic. Commentators made comparisons with artists as diverse as Sam Peckinpah and Jorge Luis Borges. Then the Protean McCarthy produced Blood Meridian, a tale of the West that mixed grotesque violence and grotesque humor and delineations that both drew on and mocked the conventions of eighteenth-century novels and epic plots in general, altering his regional identification and adding to his reputation as a prose-wizard and an original visionary. All the Pretty Horses, winner of the 1992 National Book Award, is the first volume of a promised border trilogy, and will attract much attention to McCarthy as a writer of the West, and one who seeks to combine the impulses of the Modernist and the nineteenth-century traditions. This novel is a must-read.

McCarthy's story is elemental: at once abandoned and freed by the death of his grandfather, the divorce of his parents, and the sale of the family ranch near San Angelo, sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole sets out in the late 1940s with a friend on a journey south, crossing on horseback into the last great approximation of a dry frontier, Mexico. Into this traditional quest paradigm, McCarthy puts elements of western on-the-road picaresque, and later the purest pastoral-and-romance interludes, the dense accretions of social-manners realism, the horror of captivity narratives, the suspense of the cross-country chase, the necessity of an ending. His particular skill is to draw energy from each of these sources without giving allegiance to any of them. His two most memorable characters, in fact, spring from very different traditions. The first, Jimmy Blevins, a pre-pubescent Achilles, draws impetus from the inflexibility of that heroic model so inadequate in complex circumstances, and yet lingers with the aura of a savior to the end. The second, the aging duena Alfonsa, also figures as a kind of destructive and saving force, but comes from a very different source: her long conversation with John Grady seems a deliberate and ironic echo of Christopher Newman's with Madame de Bellegard—he is the interloper, and she is the exacter of a terrible promise and the defender of a tradition, but also a woman of deep sensitivity, cursed with a tragic past which has given her the habit of philosophical speculation and the authority of grief. Her ten-page soliloquy, one of the densest self-contained sections in this novel, connects her personal history with that of Mexican radicalism and early feminist frustrations, and yet she cannot be satisfactorily described or comprehended by any political formulas.

John Grady Cole comes to life, as do many quest heroes, out of a shadowy past but carrying some great hurt. He is McCarthy's most difficult creation, an often surprising combination of innocence and experience. In the first third of the novel, his youthful stoicism might be seen as a liability too great for the narrative, but if the novel seems at this point too much Hemingway—the politicized grammar that avoids subordination, the characters that avoid speaking of emotion and live on rhetorical irony—it develops both stylistically and dramatically with echoes of Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Henry James. John Grady Cole becomes. All the Pretty Horses is a regional and an international situation, and ambitiously combines the personal and the political.

Cormac McCarthy seems to be doing what the young Larry McMurtry promised to do: explore the complex human implications of a time when the old life was passing away in the Southwest, and make us feel that the issue is not merely of the region, or of the past.

(read more)

This section contains 645 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Kerry Ahearn