All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy Series #1) [NOOK Book]

Overview

Now a major motion picture from Columbia Pictures starring Matt Damon, produced by Mike Nichols, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.

The national bestseller and the first volume in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself.  With two companions, he sets off...
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All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy Series #1)

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Overview

Now a major motion picture from Columbia Pictures starring Matt Damon, produced by Mike Nichols, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.

The national bestseller and the first volume in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself.  With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.  Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Winner of the 1992 National Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In highly evocative prose that puts the reader firmly in the saddle, the National Book Award-winning novel All the Pretty Horses -- the first and most-admired book in Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed Border Trilogy -- follows the progress of laconic 16-year-old Texan John Grady Cole, his pal Lacey Rawlins, and the mysterious young sharpshooter Jimmy Blevins as they ride across the border into Mexico in search of adventure. A contemporary classic!
San Francisco Chronicle
[The Border Trilogy is] an American classic to stand with the finest literary achievements of the century.
Newsweek
A true American original.
Boston Globe
[All the Pretty Horses's} elegiac rhythm captures the badlands of Texas and northern Mexico with a passion most writers either couldn't muster or wouldn't dare.
New York Times Book Review
McCarthy puts most other American writers to shame. [His] work itself repays the tight focus of his attention with its finely wrought craftsmanship and its ferocious energy.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a novel so exuberant in its prose, so offbeat in its setting and so mordant and profound in its deliberations that one searches in vain for comparisons in American literature. None of McCarthy's previous works, not even the award-winning The Orchard Keeper (1965) or the much-admired Blood Meridian (1985), quite prepares the reader for the singular achievement of this first installment in the projected Border Trilogy.

John Grady Cole is a 16-year-old boy who leaves his Texas home when his grandfather dies. With his parents already split up and his mother working in theater out of town, there is no longer reason for him to stay. He and his friend Lacey Rawlins ride their horses south into Mexico; they are joined by another boy, the mysterious Jimmy Blevins, a 14-year-old sharpshooter.

Although the year is 1948, the landscape--at some moments parched and unforgiving, at others verdant and gentled by rain--seems out of time, somewhere before history or after it. These likable boys affect the cowboy's taciturnity--they roll cigarettes and say what they mean--and yet amongst themselves are given to terse, comic exchanges about life and death.

In McCarthy's unblinking imagination the boys suffer truly harrowing encounters with corrupt Mexican officials, enigmatic bandits and a desert weather that roils like an angry god. Though some readers may grow impatient with the wild prairie rhythms of McCarthy's language, others will find his voice completely transporting. In what is perhaps the book's most spectacular feat, horses and men are joined in a philosophical union made manifest in the muscular pulse of the prose and the brute dignity of the characters. ``What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them,'' the narrator says of John Grady.

Library Journal
Before this beautifully written novel, McCarthy's sixth and most accessible, won last year's National Book Award and became a best seller, its author was one of the least known of great American novelists. It is a simple story (the first in a trilogy) of three Texas youths whose flight to Mexico on horseback in 1949 traverses far more than geographical borders, marking a descent into the deeper forces of friendship, love, and cruelty. Its style owes an enormous debt to Hemingway, but it pays that debt with interest. That its laconic hero, John Grady Cole, proves resourceful beyond his years (and almost beyond belief) places the novel in the tradition of classic Westerns, but never has any Western been so well told. The novel's moral logic and McCarthy's mystique of ``blood'' are questionable, but there is poignancy in Cole's yearning to touch something in horses that has passed from the race of men, to find a depth of wisdom that can only come with age, and, like most of McCarthy's people, to escape what is deadly in modern American life. The unabridged version is one of the best recorded books to date, for Frank Muller's narration is such a perfect model of balance and control that it deserves an award in itself. In the Random House abridgment, film actor Brad Pitt simply doesn't compare. With a superb complete version on the market, there is no reason to settle for anything less.-- Peter Josyph, New York
Esquire
. . .[A] grand love story, an education in responsibility.
Newsweek
A true American original. -- Newsweek
From the Publisher
"Rambunctious, high-spirited...All the Pretty Horses is a true American original." —Newsweek
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307481306
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/11/2010
  • Series: Border Trilogy Series , #1
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 26,054
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933 and spent most of his childhood near Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Air Force and later studied at the University of Tennessee. In 1976 he moved to El Paso, Texas, where he lives today. McCarthy's fiction parallels his movement from the Southeast to the West--the first four novels being set in Tennessee, the last three in the Southwest and Mexico. The Orchard Keeper (1965) won the Faulkner Award for a first novel; it was followed by Outer Dark (1968), Child of God (1973), Suttree (1979), Blood Meridian (1985), and All the Pretty Horses, which won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for fiction in 1992.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.

It was dark outside and cold and no wind. In the distance a calf bawled. He stood with his hat in his hand. You never combed your hair that way in your life, he said.

Inside the house there was no sound save the ticking of the mantel clock in the front room. He went out and shut the door.

Dark and cold and no wind and a thin gray reef beginning along the eastern rim of the world. He walked out on the prairie and stood holding his hat like some supplicant to the darkness over them all and he stood there for a long time.

As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. He could feel it under his feet. It came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing groundshudder watching it till it was gone. Then he turned and went back to the house.

She looked up from the stove when he came in and looked him up and down in his suit. Buenos días, guapo, she said.

He hung the hat on a peg by the door among slickers and blanketcoats and odd pieces of tack and came to the stove and got his coffee and took it to the table. She opened the oven and drew out a pan of sweetrolls she'd made and put one on a plate and brought it over and set it in front of him together with a knife for the butter and she touched the back of his head with her hand before she returned to the stove.

I appreciate you lightin the candle, he said.

Cómo?

La candela. La vela.

No fui yo, she said.

La señora?

Claro.

Ya se levantó?

Antes que yo.

He drank the coffee. It was just grainy light outside and Arturo was coming up toward the house.

He saw his father at the funeral. Standing by himself across the little gravel path near the fence. Once he went out to the street to his car. Then he came back. A norther had blown in about midmorning and there were spits of snow in the air with blowing dust and the women sat holding on to their hats. They'd put an awning up over the gravesite but the weather was all sideways and it did no good. The canvas rattled and flapped and the preacher's words were lost in the wind. When it was over and the mourners rose to go the canvas chairs they'd been sitting on raced away tumbling among the tombstones.

In the evening he saddled his horse and rode out west from the house. The wind was much abated and it was very cold and the sun sat blood red and elliptic under the reefs of bloodred cloud before him. He rode where he would always choose to ride, out where the western fork of the old Comanche road coming down out of the Kiowa country to the north passed through the westernmost section of the ranch and you could see the faint trace of it bearing south over the low prairie that lay between the north and middle forks of the Concho River. At the hour he'd always choose when the shadows were long and the ancient road was shaped before him in the rose and canted light like a dream of the past where the painted ponies and the riders of that lost nation came down out of the north with their faces chalked and their long hair plaited and each armed for war which was their life and the women and children and women with children at their breasts all of them pledged in blood and redeemable in blood only. When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of the horses and the horses' hooves that were shod in rawhide and the rattle of lances and the constant drag of the travois poles in the sand like the passing of some enormous serpent and the young boys naked on wild horses jaunty as circus riders and hazing wild horses before them and the dogs trotting with their tongues aloll and footslaves following half naked and sorely burdened an above all the low chant of their traveling song which the riders sang as they rode, nation and ghost of nation passing in a soft chorale across that mineral waste to darkness bearing lost to all history and all remembrance like a grail the sum of their secular and transitory and violent lives.

He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west. He turned south along the old war trail and he rode out to the crest of a low rise and dismounted and dropped the reins and walked out and stood like a man come to the end of something.

There was an old horseskull in the brush and he squatted and picked it up and turned it in his hands. Frail and brittle. Bleached paper white. He squatted in the long light holding it, the comicbook teeth loose in their sockets. The joints in the cranium like a ragged welding of the bone plates. The muted run of sand in the brainbox when he turned it.

What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise.

He rode back in the dark. The horse quickened its step. The last of the day's light fanned slowly upon the plain behind him and withdrew again down the edges of the world in a cooling blue of shadow and dusk and chill and a few last chitterings of birds sequestered in the dark and wiry brush. He crossed the old trace again and he must turn the pony up onto the plain and homeward but the warriors would ride on in that darkness they'd become, rattling past with their stone-age tools of war in default of all substance and singing softly in blood and longing south across the plains to Mexico.

The house was built in eighteen seventy-two. Seventy-seven years later his grandfather was still the first man to die in it. What others had lain in state in that hallway had been carried there on a gate or wrapped in a wagonsheet or delivered crated up in a raw pineboard box with a teamster standing at the door with a bill of lading. The ones that came at all. For the most part they were dead by rumor. A yellowed scrap of newsprint. A letter. A telegram. The original ranch was twenty-three hundred acres out of the old Meusebach survey of the Fisher-Miller grant, the original house a oneroom hovel of sticks and wattle. That was in eighteen sixty-six. In that same year the first cattle were driven through what was still Bexar County and across the north end of the ranch and on to Fort Sumner and Denver. Five years later his great-grandfather sent six hundred steers over that same trail and with the money he built the house and by then the ranch was already eighteen thousand acres. In eighteen eighty-three they ran the first barbed wire. By eighty-six the buffalo were gone. That same winter a bad die-up. In eighty-nine Fort Concho was disbanded.

His grandfather was the oldest of eight boys and the only one to live past the age of twenty-five. They were drowned, shot, kicked by horses. They perished in fires. They seemed to fear only dying in bed. The last two were killed in Puerto Rico in eighteen ninety-eight and in that year he married and brought his bride home to the ranch and he must have walked out and stood looking at his holdings and reflected long upon the ways of God and the laws of primogeniture. Twelve years later when his wife was carried off in the influenza epidemic they still had no children. A year later he married his dead wife's older sister and a year after this the boy's mother was born and that was all the borning that there was. The Grady name was buried with that old man the day the norther blew the lawnchairs over the dead cemetery grass. The boy's name was Cole. John Grady Cole.

He met his father in the lobby of the St Angelus and they walked up Chadbourne Street to the Eagle Cafe and sat in a booth at the back. Some at the tables stopped talking when they came in. A few men nodded to his father and one said his name.

The waitress called everybody doll. She took their order and flirted with him. His father took out his cigarettes and lit one and put the pack on the table and put his Third Infantry Zippo lighter on top of it and leaned back and smoked and looked at him. He told him his uncle Ed Alison had gone up to the preacher after the funeral was said and shook his hand, the two of them standing there holding onto their hats and leaning thirty degrees into the wind like vaudeville comics while the canvas flapped and raged about them and the funeral attendants raced over the grounds after the lawnchairs, and he'd leaned into the preacher's face and screamed at him that it was a good thing they'd held the burial that morning because the way it was making up this thing could turn off into a real blow before the day was out.

His father laughed silently. Then he fell to coughing. He took a drink of water and sat smoking and shaking his head.

Buddy when he come back from up in the panhandle told me one time it quit blowin up there and all the chickens fell over.

The waitress brought their coffee. Here you go, doll, she said. I'll have your all's orders up in just a minute.

She's gone to San Antonio, the boy said.

Dont call her she.

Mama.

I know it.

They drank their coffee.

What do you aim to do?

About what?

About anything.

She can go where she wants to.

The boy watched him. You aint got no business smokin them things, he said.

His father pursed his lips and drummed his fingers on the table and looked up. When I come around askin you what I'm supposed to do you'll know you're big enough to tell me, he said.

Yessir.

You need any money?

No.

He watched the boy. You'll be all right, he said.

The waitress brought their dinner, thick china lunchplates with steak and gravy and potatoes and beans.

I'll get your all's bread.

His father tucked his napkin into his shirt.

It aint me I was worried about, the boy said. Can I say that?

His father took up his knife and cut into the steak. Yeah, he said. You can say that.

The waitress brought the basket of rolls and set it on the table and went away. They ate. His father didn't eat much. After a while he pushed the plate back with his thumb and reached and got another cigarette and tapped it against the lighter and put it in his mouth and lit it.

You can say whatever's on your mind. Hell. You can bitch at me about smokin if you want.

The boy didnt answer.

You know it aint what I wanted dont you?

Yeah. I know that.

You lookin after Rosco good?

He aint been rode.

Why dont we go Saturday.

All right.

You dont have to if you got somethin else to do.

I aint got nothin else to do.

His father smoked, he watched him.

You dont have to if you dont want to, he said.

I want to.

Can you and Arturo load and pick me up in town?

Yeah.

What time?

What time'll you be up?

I'll get up.

We'll be there at eight.

I'll be up.

The boy nodded. He ate. His father looked around. I wonder who you need to see in this place to get some coffee, he said.

He and Rawlins had unsaddled the horses and turned them out in the dark and they were lying on the saddleblankets and using the saddles for pillows. The night was cold and clear and the sparks rising from the fire raced hot and red among the stars. They could hear the trucks out on the highway and they could see the lights of the town reflected off the desert fifteen miles to the north.

What do you aim to do? Rawlins said.

I dont know. Nothin.

I dont know what you expect. Him two years oldern you. Got his own car and everthing.

There aint nothin to him. Never was.

What did she say?

She didnt say nothin. What would she say? There aint nothin to say.

Well I dont know what you expect.

I dont expect nothin.

Are you goin on Saturday?

No.

Rawlins took a cigarette out of his shirtpocket and sat up and took a coal from the fire and lit the cigarette. He sat smoking. I wouldnt let her get the best of me, he said.

He tipped the ash from the end of the cigarette against the heel of his boot.

She aint worth it. None of em are.

He didnt answer for a while. Then he said: Yes they are.

When he got back he rubbed down the horse and put him up and walked up to the house to the kitchen. Luisa had gone to bed and the house was quiet. He put his hand on the coffeepot to test it and he took down a cup and poured it and walked out and up the hallway.

He entered his grandfather's office and went to the desk and turned on the lamp and sat down in the old oak swivelchair. On the desk was a small brass calendar mounted on swivels that changed dates when you tipped it over in its stand. It still said September 13th. An ashtray. A glass paperweight. A blotter that said Palmer Feed and Supply. His mother's highschool graduation picture in a small silver frame.

The room smelled of old cigarsmoke. He leaned and turned off the little brass lamp and sat in the dark. Through the front window he could see the starlit prairie falling away to the north. The black crosses of the old telegraph poles yoked across the constellations passing east to west. His grandfather said the Comanche would cut the wires and splice them back with horsehair. He leaned back and crossed his boots on the desktop. Dry lightning to the north, forty miles distant. The clock struck eleven in the front room across the hall.

She came down the stairs and stood in the office doorway and turned on the wall switch light. She was in her robe and she stood with her arms cradled against her, her elbows in her palms. He looked at her and looked out the window again.

What are you doing? she said.

Settin.

She stood there in her robe for a long time. Then she turned and went back down the hall and up the stairs again. When he heard her door close he got up and turned off the light.

There were a few last warm days yet and in the afternoon sometimes he and his father would sit in the hotel room in the white wicker furniture with the window open and the thin crocheted curtains blowing into the room and they'd drink coffee and his father would pour a little whiskey in his own cup and sit sipping it and smoking and looking down at the street. There were oilfield scouts' cars parked along the street that looked like they'd been in a warzone.

If you had the money would you buy it? the boy said.

I had the money and I didnt.

You mean your backpay from the army?

No. Since then.

What's the most you ever won?

You dont need to know. Learn bad habits.

Why dont I bring the chessboard up some afternoon?

I aint got the patience to play.

You got the patience to play poker.

That's different.

What's different about it?

Money is what's different about it.

They sat.

There's still a lot of money in the ground out there, his father said. Number one I C Clark that come in last year was a big well.

He sipped his coffee. He reached and got his cigarettes off the table and lit one and looked at the boy and looked down at the street again. After a while he said:

I won twenty-six thousand dollars in twenty-two hours of play. There was four thousand dollars in the last pot, three of us in. Two boys from Houston. I won the hand with three natural queens.

He turned and looked at the boy. The boy sat with the cup in front of him halfway to his mouth. He turned and looked back out the window. I dont have a dime of it, he said.

What do you think I should do?

I dont think there's much you can do.

Will you talk to her?

I caint talk to her.

You could talk to her.

Last conversation we had was in San Diego California in nineteen forty-two. It aint her fault. I aint the same as I was. I'd like to think I am. But I aint.

You are inside. Inside you are.

His father coughed. He drank from his cup. Inside, he said.

They sat for a long time.

She's in a play or somethin over there.

Yeah. I know.

The boy reached and got his hat off the floor and put it on his knee. I better get back, he said.

You know I thought the world of that old man, dont you?

The boy looked out the window. Yeah, he said.

Dont go to cryin on me now.

I aint.

Well dont.

He never give up, the boy said. He was the one told me not to. He said let's not have a funeral till we got somethin to bury, if it aint nothin but his dogtags. They were fixin to give your clothes away.

His father smiled. They might as well of, he said. Only thing fit me was the boots.

He always thought you all would get back together.

Yeah, I know he did.

The boy stood and put on his hat. I better get on back, he said.

He used to get in fights over her. Even as a old man. Anybody said anything about her. If he heard about it. It wasnt even dignified.

I better get on.

Well.

He unpropped his feet from the windowsill. I'll walk down with you. I need to get the paper.

They stood in the tiled lobby while his father scanned the headlines.

How can Shirley Temple be getting divorced? he said.

He looked up. Early winter twilight in the streets. I might just get a haircut, he said.

He looked at the boy.

I know how you feel. I felt the same way.

The boy nodded. His father looked at the paper again and folded it.

The Good Book says that the meek shall inherit the earth and I expect that's probably the truth. I aint no freethinker, but I'll tell you what. I'm a long way from bein convinced that it's all that good a thing.

He looked at the boy. He took his key out of his coatpocket and handed it to him.

Go on back up there. There's somethin belongs to you in the closet.

The boy took the key. What is it? he said.

Just somethin I got for you. I was goin to give it to you at Christmas but I'm tired of walkin over it.

Yessir.

Anyway you look like you could use some cheerin up. Just leave the key at the desk when you come down.

Yessir.

I'll see you.

All right.

He rode back up in the elevator and walked down the hall and put the key in the door and walked in and went to the closet and opened it. Standing on the floor along with two pairs of boots and a pile of dirty shirts was a brand new Hamley Formfitter saddle. He picked it up by the horn and shut the closet door and carried it to the bed and swung it up and stood looking at it.

Hell fire and damnation, he said.

He left the key at the desk and swung out through the doors into the street with the saddle over his shoulder.

He walked down to South Concho Street and swung the saddle down and stood it in front of him. It was just dark and the streetlights had come on. The first vehicle along was a Model A Ford truck and it came skidding quarterwise to a halt on its mechanical brakes and the driver leaned across and rolled down the window part way and boomed at him in a whiskey voice: Throw that hull up in the bed, cowboy, and get in here.

Yessir, he said.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

The questions, author biography, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking at—and talking about—a novel that won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992 and that has established McCarthy as a writer whose popularity now approaches his critical reputation.

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Foreword

1. All the Pretty Horses opens with one death—that of John Grady'sgrandfather—and ends with the death of the family servant called Abuela,"grandmother." (At the novel's end, John Grady also learns that his father has died.) How do these deaths impel the novel's plot? What larger meanings do they suggest?

2. What other events in this novel occur more than once? How does McCarthy use repetition as a structuring device?

3. How does the author establish John Grady's character? How has he changed by the novel's end? At what points in the book do we see him change?

4. What attributes does McCarthy seem to value in his characters, and how can you tell he does so? Do these traits always serve them well, or are the boys in All the Pretty Horses victims of their own virtues?

5. On the hacienda an old man named Luis tells the boys that "the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal...that if a person understood the soul of a horse then he would understand all the horses that ever were" (p. 111). "Among men," Luis continues, "there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men could be understood at all was probably an illusion." How are these statements borne out or contradicted within the novel? To what extent does the author allow us to "understand" his horses, while keeping his human characters psychologically opaque? What sort of contrasts does McCarthy draw between the communal soul of horses (see especially pages 103-107) and the profound solitude of men? What role, generally, do horses play in this book?

6. On page 89 Rawlins says: "A goodlookin horse is like a goodlookin woman...They're always more trouble than what they're worth." How does this statement foreshadow events to come? Where else in the novel do casual statements serve as portents?

7. How does the author establish the differences between the United States and Mexico? How do their respective inhabitants seem to view each other?

8. Alejandra's aunt offers two alternative metaphors for the workings of destiny, comparing it both to a coiner in the moment he places a slug in the die and to a puppet show in which the strings are always held by other puppets (pages 230-231). Which of these metaphors seems more apt to the narrative as a whole? Is what happens to the boys in the course of the novel the result of character or fate?

9. Do the boys' journey and subsequent ordeals ever seem foolish, futile, or anachronistic? If so, how does McCarthy suggest this?

10. All the Pretty Horses is spare in exposition (note the economy with which McCarthy establishes John Grady's situation at the book's beginning) yet lavish in the attention it devotes to scenes and details whose significance is not immediately clear (note the description of the cantina on page 49 and the scene in which John Grady and Rawlins buy new clothes on pages 117-121). Why do you think the author has chosen to weight his narrative in this way?

11. Although John Grady and Rawlins are innocent of stealing horses, McCarthy suggests that they are culpable of other crimes. At different points in the book he compares them to "young thieves in a glowing orchard" (p. 31) and "a party of marauders" (p. 45). When John Grady makes love to Alejandra, we are told that it is "sweeter for the larceny of time and flesh" (p. 141). What kinds of theft might McCarthy be writing about? Might the boys' suffering be seen as warranted by earlier transgressions? What sort of moral system applies within the universe of this book?

12. Is All the Pretty Horses a violent book? How do the novel's characters feel about the deaths they cause? At a time when graphic and gratuitous descriptions of mayhem are standard in much popular fiction for purposes of mere shock and titillation, does McCarthy succeed in restoring to violence its ancient qualities of pity and terror? How does he accomplish this?

13. What role does history play in McCarthy's narrative? To what extent are his characters products of a particular era?

14. Although the occurrences in All the Pretty Horses are, strictly speaking, plausible and its human voices, in particular, are nothing if not realistic, the book also contains a strong mythic component. How, and where, does McCarthy introduce this? What specific myths and fairy tales does the book suggest?

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Reading Group Guide

1. All the Pretty Horses opens with one death--that of John Grady'sgrandfather--and ends with the death of the family servant called Abuela, "grandmother." (At the novel's end, John Grady also learns that his father has died.) How do these deaths impel the novel's plot? What larger meanings do they suggest?

2. What other events in this novel occur more than once? How does McCarthy use repetition as a structuring device?

3. How does the author establish John Grady's character? How has he changed by the novel's end? At what points in the book do we see him change?

4. What attributes does McCarthy seem to value in his characters, and how can you tell he does so? Do these traits always serve them well, or are the boys in All the Pretty Horses victims of their own virtues?

5. On the hacienda an old man named Luis tells the boys that "the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal... that if a person understood the soul of a horse then he would understand all the horses that ever were" (p. 111). "Among men, " Luis continues, "there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men could be understood at all was probably an illusion." How are these statements borne out or contradicted within the novel? To what extent does the author allow us to "understand" his horses, while keeping his human characters psychologically opaque? What sort of contrasts does McCarthy draw between the communal soul of horses (see especially pages 103-107) and the profound solitude of men? What role, generally, do horses play in this book?

6. On page 89 Rawlins says: "A goodlookin horse is likea goodlookin woman... They're always more trouble than what they're worth." How does this statement foreshadow events to come? Where else in the novel do casual statements serve as portents?

7. How does the author establish the differences between the United States and Mexico? How do their respective inhabitants seem to view each other?

8. Alejandra's aunt offers two alternative metaphors for the workings of destiny, comparing it both to a coiner in the moment he places a slug in the die and to a puppet show in which the strings are always held by other puppets (pages 230-231). Which of these metaphors seems more apt to the narrative as a whole? Is what happens to the boys in the course of the novel the result of character or fate?

9. Do the boys' journey and subsequent ordeals ever seem foolish, futile, or anachronistic? If so, how does McCarthy suggest this?

10. All the Pretty Horses is spare in exposition (note the economy with which McCarthy establishes John Grady's situation at the book's beginning) yet lavish in the attention it devotes to scenes and details whose significance is not immediately clear (note the description of the cantina on page 49 and the scene in which John Grady and Rawlins buy new clothes on pages 117-121). Why do you think the author has chosen to weight his narrative in this way?

11. Although John Grady and Rawlins are innocent of stealing horses, McCarthy suggests that they are culpable of other crimes. At different points in the book he compares them to "young thieves in a glowing orchard" (p. 31) and "a party of marauders" (p. 45). When John Grady makes love to Alejandra, we are told that it is "sweeter for the larceny of time and flesh" (p. 141). What kinds of theft might McCarthy be writing about? Might the boys' suffering be seen as warranted by earlier transgressions? What sort of moral system applies within the universe of this book?

12. Is All the Pretty Horses a violent book? How do the novel's characters feel about the deaths they cause? At a time when graphic and gratuitous descriptions of mayhem are standard in much popular fiction for purposes of mere shock and titillation, does McCarthy succeed in restoring to violence its ancient qualities of pity and terror? How does he accomplish this?

13. What role does history play in McCarthy's narrative? To what extent are his characters products of a particular era?

14. Although the occurrences in All the Pretty Horses are, strictly speaking, plausible and its human voices, in particular, are nothing if not realistic, the book also contains a strong mythic component. How, and where, does McCarthy introduce this? What specific myths and fairy tales does the book suggest?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 180 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2007

    To the abyss and back

    This book will reshape your soul. I don't think it's posssible to find another author who can capture the most isolated moment a human soul can bear and give it beauty in a way that releases you. This passage alone is worth the price of the book - 'He slept that night in a field far from any town. He built no fire. He lay listening to the horse crop the grass at his stakerope and he listened to the wind in the emptiness and watched stars trace the arc of the hemisphere and die in the darkness at the edge of the world and as he lay there the agony in his heart was like a stake. He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits.'

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    Not So Pretty Story

    A tough ranch kid in some vague time period finds everything he desires in his little Texas hometown just beyond his grasp. Devoid of prospects, his buddy and him take off in search of adventure and fortune. Lucky for them, a wild, uncharted, mythic land is within an easy horseback ride. Not so lucky, on the way to this strangely archaic old Mexico they befriend a mysterious boy with serious issues. They know this good deed will not go unpunished, but that's the way they roll. This is the set up to explore what happens when people with civilized values cross the border into much darker territory. Tom Sawyer it's not! It gets unblinkingly dark, and resolves to gray. Those unfamiliar with McCarthy's work be aware that he seems overly fond of scenarios involving cowboy boots full of the wearer's blood. Be aware McCarthy favors of a writing style largely devoid of punctuation. Periods are about it. If you have leave the narrative to re-read a paragraph to get the gist, that's your look out! At the back of the book is a study guide with discussion questions. Sophomores need guidance to really appreciate a book like this. That would be most readers, I guess. It is a great adventure story with thought provoking themes if you can stomach the eccentric writing style and condescending attitude of the presentation.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    All the Pretty Horses

    All the Pretty Horses is a great book of romantic genre, it is one of my favorite books that I have read. This book is very interesting because you can travel through the time into the beautiful West. The theme of the story is great because the author lets to see the importance to follow a dream and how can be important to a man the love of a girl and the love for his horses. This novel takes place in Texas and South border in Mexico in 1949, after the World War II. This story begins in a ranch in San Angelo Texas when the main character John Grady Cole, a young man that has grown between horses in a life style in the ranch, decides to start a journey on his adored horse to the South to unknown lands in Mexico for him and his friend Lacey Rawlins, to look for a work in Mexico where they can live between horses. During the journey they find Jimmy Blevins, a thirteen years old guy. Jimmy is united to the two guys and they live many adventures until John Grady knows Alejandra, the daughter of Don Hector the boss and the owner of the ranch where Grady works. John and Alejandra live a passionate love against all. I realized that I really like this book because I think that the author, Cormac McCarthy, do an excellent job. First, the place where the story is developed is amazing in a huge state like it is Texas and the beautiful country of Mexico, the soul of the world. It is very important because this book transports to the lector to the incredible places and the lector can imagine that he or she is in there. Second, the characters are realistic, funny and adventurous, but at the same time they can be brave, dangerous and very humans specially John Grady Cole. Finally, but not lees important the theme of the story where you can get an important message that when somebody has passion about something, the people have to do whatever they want to fallow their passion.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Not to be taken lightly.

    Cormac McCarthy reaches inside you and does not let go. His writing style is not the usual, which of itself makes you pay attention, but he makes you want to, until the very end. Mr. McCarthy's use of the language is exquisite and his style makes it even more so. I carried the emotions and revelations of this book around with me for days after I was done, and look forward to the next two volumes of the Trilogy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Whatever

    Lost me from the beginning. Waaay to much rambling. Wont be reading that one twice

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Mesmerizing and beautiful

    Cormac McCarthy has a singular talent: he can write in a lean, minimalist prose that, at the same time, is devastating in its beauty and emotion. Reading this novel was like being under a hypnotic trance, where the characters inhabit a world that is real and merciless but also surreal and haunting. The dialogue blends seamlessly with the thoughts of the characters and with the painting of the landscape, so that they all portray a living, breathing entity. Some readers might be put off by the slow burning, almost cold approach to the writing; but the end result is an achievement, stunning in its poetic imagery.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2010

    One of my all time favorite books ever, but Cormac McCarthy isn't for everyone.

    McCarthy has a way of showing us the beauty of the human soul, even in the darkest of moments. If you are a fan of stories with happy endings, with all the loose ends wrapped up neatly, then McCarthy is probably not the best choice in reading material for you. Just watch No County for Old Men (one of at least three movies based on one of McCarthy's books) to see just how dark and disturbing his plots can be. If you can handle the darkness and the lack of a tidy ending so common in most popular fiction, then open the pages of this book and lose yourself in McCarthy's brilliant prose.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2012

    Modern Cowboys

    Some Spanish, (very little), to add to the feel of this Tex-Mex, coming of age novel. Recommended to all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    start of a wonderful journey

    This book is so well worth time/money, as are the two that follow. McCarthy puts the reader right inside the pages...terrific

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2011

    It's Okay

    This novel is a pretty good plot, but the lack of punctuation and slowly progressing story make it difficult to get through at times. The themes and charactization of the book rely on the main charater, John Grady Cole, adventuring into the dying wild west to live out his dream of living off the land in a life full of horses after growing up in the modernizing of Texas. Throughout the novel the image Cole once had of being a cowboy is wreaked when he faces the reality of social constraits and difficulties presented in the time. Additionally, the book as some comic relief, but at times can be rather violent and saddening.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2010

    My Review For Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses

    Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, first of his Border Trilogy, tells the 1948 coming of age story of the protagonist, sixteen year-old John Grady Cole. After his grandfather passes away, his actress mother sells their west Texas ranch and Cole quickly finds himself as the first line in the family without the comfort of working the family ranch. Fleeing on horseback to Mexico to find work with his close friend Lacey Rawlins, they soon meet up with young Jimmy Blevins as the cross the Rio Grande, who proves to be both a comical and a tragic character throughout the story.

    As they journey through the foreign, unforgiving terrain of Northern Mexico, Blevins becomes separated from the trio and the two friends encounter fierce storms, horse chases, and the unfamiliar lifestyle that comes with the territory before they are hired as vaqueros, or cowboys, on a vast ranching estate. Horses, forbidden love, a new culture, and uneasy locals all become part of the norm for Cole, who ultimately realizes that his Mexican expedition was a riveting experience that he could have never imagined.

    A tale of a boy and his relationship with man, horse, and mother nature, McCarthy's novel describes the infusion of the untamed Mexican terrain with the antiquated culture of the American cowboy. Marked by McCarthy's reduced amount of punctuation, it is complete with drama, loss, and ultimately redemption in this story about the West and Mexico.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2009

    A little lacking....

    All the Pretty Horses use's a writing stye unique to only Cormac McCarthy, and it isn't that great. He doesn'y give the characters too much dialogue, possibly because he doesn't talk thatmuch himself, and he doesn't use punctuations. I dislike the way he doesn't use symbolism either, it doesn't give the book much depth and it can't hold my interest. The way Cormac McCarthy portrays these characters in general was to my overall disliking, his lack of description of physical appearence and even their emotions. All and all i would say i'd advise you not to read this.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Waste of time and money

    The only reason why i'm reading this is becuase i have to for school. first of all this book is way to descriptive. normally i would have stopped after the first sentence but i have to read this. McCarthy doesnt use any qouteation marks becuase he thinks it takes away from the story. well it doesnt, it just makes the story confusing. there is no suspense, no real action, not otuching not anything that could possibly appeal to any reader. dont read this its a waste of mnoey.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Sixteen year old John Grady decides to leave his home in Texas a

    Sixteen year old John Grady decides to leave his home in Texas and go to Mexico.  He leaves with his friend Lacey Rawlins. As they travel and collect a third person, Jimmy Blevins, they find that the world gives more downs than up on the rollercoaster of life. 




     I had not read any of Cormac McCarthy’s books.  I think this is a good one to start with because I thought it sometimes reminiscent of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stories. The only difference was a little more violent, dark and some sex mentioned.  From what I read of other reviews this book is fairly “happy” compared to McCarthy’s other works.   




     The first things that bothered me about the book was no quotations when people spoke and also quite a bit of Spanish that does not get translated in the book.  The Spanish really bothered me because I did not feel like grabbing a Spanish dictionary and looking up every other sentence.  




     So even with the book’s negative traits I still found it refreshing different from what I normally read.  I don’t know if I would read the rest of the series though. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    A little drawn out, but likeable. Characters just a little to br

    A little drawn out, but likeable. Characters just a little to broadly drawn, some of the situations just to remarkable. More of a fantasy that a true Western.My top five - True Grit
    The Shootist The Trail, Shane, The Searchers

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    I know comparisons are odious at their worst and flawed at their

    I know comparisons are odious at their worst and flawed at their best, and I hope the comparison I make does not marginalize my respect for this book or put off prospective readers. All the Pretty Horses is definitely unique, a novel I highly respect for its individuality. At the same time, in both style and content, this book reminds me of Hemingway at his best - except for the adolescent approach to drinking. Mexico represents Hemingway's Spain: pre-modern and guided by principles incomprehensible to outsiders. John Grady Cole, to me, is reminiscent of competent and stoic characters like Robert Jordan who are in search of ideals in compromised worlds. Moreover, the narrative control that reveals background information as is necessary and keeps the reader curious, reminds me of Hemingway's terse writing that is, at times, irksome, but simultaneously capturing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012

    Yuck.

    I remember being forced to read this in AP English as a junior in HS. I hated it. I hate his style of writing. The lack of punctuation is utterly maddening.

    One of the rare cases where I liked the movie more than the book!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 12, 2011

    Interesting Read

    I found this book interesting but at points hard to follow. I appreciated that different writing style that was used in this book. It made some parts of the story very touching, but at other points I felt kind of lost.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2011

    Solid McCarthy

    I'm a big fan of McCarthy, so I automatically came into reading this book optimistic. Having read his border trilogy out of order (2,3 and then this, 1, last) I can't say I liked it as much as the others in the series, but it provided an amazing foundation for the next two. McCarthy always has a way of making a deep, profound statement in very few words, often in the midst of a large paragraph. I love his style and this book is a fantastic example of it.

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