Cormac McCarthy does not write romance novels. Anyone who has read (or seen the film adaptations) No Country for Old Men or The Road knows very well how bleak and violent but also inventive and enthralling McCarthy’s writing can be. Of his 10 novels however, All the Pretty Horses is easily the most romantic. For one thing, some of the characters survive the entirety of the story. For another, there is a star-crossed love between the protagonist, John Grady Cole, and the captivating Alejandra.
This is still a Cormac McCarthy novel though, so there is violence and older characters who are as embittered as they are wise. It should give you some insight into the tone of McCarthy’s other books to know that a novel that subjects its main character to beatings, stabbings, and fights for his life is still considered, “the romantic one.” But romantic it is. From John Grady setting off with his friend to make their own way to the intense and dangerous situations in which they often find themselves. The romance can especially be found in the descriptions. McCarthy has always written sumptuously about natural landscapes and All the Pretty Horses is no different, though he also includes vivid scenes whenever John Grady encounters Alejandra. The kind of infatuation that can only be sustained between two people in their late teens is written about in a way that is not only believable but engaging as well.
McCarthy received the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for this novel and it was one of his first books to reach a wide audience. And as a fan (I’ve read all of his books and a couple plays) I normally suggest this one as the point of entry. McCarthy’s writing takes what could be a standard young love story set in the southwest and makes it a powerful rumination on fate, expectation, and self-determination. And so I don’t make it seem all too heady and heavy, I’ll end with a bit of the humor for which McCarthy does not get enough credit. A powerful ranch owner is explaining to John Grady his feelings about varying rules for the game of pool – “The French have come into my house to mutilate my billiard game. No evil is beyond them.”
To continue the “Border Trilogy” you can check out The Crossing and Cities of the Plain from Virginia Beach Public Library.