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All the Pretty Horses - McCarthy's Best

This is the first novel in the set of McCarthy's so called "Border Trilogy," and by far, the best. It stands on its own as a classic American novel. It is the story of a taciturn 16-year old Texan, with a love for horses and a gift for training them, who sadly (or so it seems; his emotions are never explicitly revealed) comes to the realization that there is nothing for him in Texas anymore to keep him there. With a friend, and on horseback, he embarks upon a journey to Mexico. Plotwise, the story is unusual in that, unlike the usual standard western, it takes place in 1947, an era way beyond cowboys and Indians. Reminders of this are contained throughout, such as the sudden appearance of a noisy automobile, or the description of a line of telegraph poles stretched across the distance, as far as one can see.

Yet Mexico even in 1947 is still in many ways a savage land, and the young men's adventures there are the subject of the novel. I can tell you that when I use the term "adventures," I mean exactly that. This is an exciting novel, a page-turning novel.

The lads finally reach a place they wish to call home: a large, sprawling ranch in central Mexico, where they become hands, and where the protagonist ultimately achieves a somewhat exalted position training and breeding horses. I'm not going to give away too much of the plot here, but it's moved to a large degree by the presence of the ranch-owner's daughter, a well-educated, headstrong, black-haired and blue-eyed 17-year-old beauty. Suddenly confronted with the arrival of this lanky, brave, adventurous and mature-for-his-age American . . . well, you can almost guess what will happen, but the story nevertheless veers from cliche and instead becomes fresh, believable and extremely moving.

More than the plot, though, is the simple, almost sparse nature of McCarthy's prose. His descriptions of the landscape through which his characters travel is poetic, almost dreamy: "They'd ride out along the cienaga road and along the verge of the marshes while the sun rose riding up flights of ducks out of the shallows or geese or mergansers that would beat away over the water scattering the haze and rising up would turn to birds of gold in a sun not yet visible from the bolson floor." The spare language, and also the...

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