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All the Pretty Horses - Comparison to Faulkner

Many people compare, fairly or no, Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses" to William Faulkner's literary work. What is neglected is the strain of Flannery O'Connor that runs throughout the novel as well. At any rate, "Horses" more than stands on its own as a startling achievement. It's prose is more accessible than Faulkner, and its themes less esoteric than O'Connor. "Horses" is an immaculate novel, dealing with the extreme facets of the everyday and the ways in which people become who they are.

John Grady Cole, a 16 year old boy, dispossessed of his family lands, wanders off into Mexico, accompanied by Lacey Rawlins, a close friend. Astride their trusted horses, Redbo and Junior, the two young men ride, searching for occupation and meaning. It may be somewhat idealistic that two ranch-hands like Cole and Rawlins should ride about, discussing throughout the novel things like the profundities of religion, life, and human relationships on so advanced a level, but McCarthy's grasp of vernacular - English and Spanish - makes the whole completely palatable.

McCarthy's writing technique leaves nothing to be desired - his evocative use of landscape draws the Texas-Mexico scenery off the page and into immediate experience. Impressionistic and yet utterly tangible, the cold of the evenings and the heat of the days is described as it is felt. McCarthy's characterization is just as remarkable. Minor characters like the various groups of laborers met along the way, Perez the mysteriously powerful political exile/prisoner, or children bathing in a ditch - all bring realism and depth to Cole's struggle into selfhood.

The most wonderful thing about "Horses" is that McCarthy doesn't beat you over the head with his major themes - they exist as constant undercurrents - humanity's relationship to tradition, the divine, to each other - these are the elements that course and pulse through the novel. Epic knife-fights in a Kafkaesque prison, emotional wounds that never heal, a covert love affair with Alejandra (the daughter of a powerful Mexican landowner), philosophical-historical conversations with her aunt Alfonsa, a problematic relationship with 'Jimmy Blevins,' a possessive young boy - all of these moments in the novel are saturated with fundamental thematic significance.

This is not a book to simply read. This book must be lived with, carried, held, gazed upon and treasured. Give it full reign of your mind and let the unknowable horses of your imagination take you into yourself.

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