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Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses

This is the first novel in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and it is these books that gave him the commercial success that had so long eluded him. John Grady Cole, age sixteen, is evicted from the ranch in Texas, where he grew up. The year is 1949. He and his friend, Lacey Rawlins, cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. On the way they meet Jimmy Blevins, about whom they have some doubts, but they allow him to accompany him. Blevins loses his horse but steals it back and flees, chased by armed men while Cole and Rawlins eventually come to the Hacienda de la Purísima, where they sign on as hands. Young Cole soon finds he has a way with horses and the owner of the ranch, Don Hector, welcomes this as he is a keen horse breeder. However, Cole starts an affair with Alejandra, Don Hector’s daughter, and Don Hector is not happy when he finds out, arranging for Cole and Rawlins to be charged with murder and horse theft, for which Blevins is responsible. Blevins is killed, Rawlins badly beaten up and Cole has to kill a man but, when he and Rawlins are mysteriously released, he returns to find Alejandra. She is not there and, when he does find her, she decides to remain loyal to her family. Cole can only return home, even though there is no home to return to.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a mawkish or melodramatic story but, in McCarthy’s hands, it becomes, as with his other novels, a mythic and powerful story, with the sense of mystery and the sense of evil, hovering in the background but only hovering, leaving us unsure of what is and what is not. There are no easy solutions for McCarthy’s characters and the same applies to John Grady Cole who is left, at the end, with the world to come.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Knopf