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The world can be a rough place.  For all of the joy and beauty to be found there is an equal measure of darkness and depravity.  Few authors present the dark side of reality in as poetic a manner as Cormac McCarthy.  His novels imbue the tenebrous side of life with a haunting nobility that reiterates the value of every human life, no matter how squalid the conditions in which that life exists.  All the Pretty Horses is an excellent example of McCarthy’s remarkable talent for transforming the downtrodden into the admirable.

All the Pretty Horses is the story of John Grady Cole, a sixteen-year-old cowboy from San Angelo, Texas.  Following the death of his grandfather, Cole learns that his mother plans to sell the family ranch.  Unable to dissuade her, Cole decides to run away to Mexico.  He persuades his friend Lacey Rawlins to accompany him, and the two set off on horseback.  Along the way they encounter another runaway, Jimmy Blevins, who rides a magnificent bay horse that is almost certainly stolen.  Despite Rawlins’ misgivings, the two allow Blevins to accompany them into Mexico.  Shortly after crossing the border, Blevins loses his horse, his pistol, and his other possessions while hiding during a thunder-storm.  He persuades his companions to go into a nearby town in order to find his horse.  They locate his horse and steal it back.  A band of horsemen set out after them, and Blevins leads the pursuers off while John Grady and Rawlins escape in another direction.

John Grady and Rawlins find work on a large ranch, where Grady soon distinguishes himself for his skill with horses.  The ranch owner offers John Grady a more distinguished job helping him select wild mares for breeding with a thoroughbred champion stallion purchased in America.  John Grady also encounters Alejandra, the beautiful young daughter of the ranch owner.  The two begin a passionate affair.  This good fortune comes to an end when John Grady and Rawlins are arrested without warning.  They are brought back to the town where Blevins had retrieved his horse.  After being separated from John Grady and Rawlins, Blevins had returned to the town to reclaim his pistol.  In the process he shot three men, killing one.  Blevins is executed and John Grady and Rawlins are sent to a Mexican prison.

The two friends are brutally tested in prison, fighting for survival on a daily basis.  Rawlins is attacked with a knife and sent to the infirmary for his injuries.  While Rawlins is in the infirmary, John Grady is attacked by another prisoner wielding a knife.  Despite being seriously injured, John Grady kills his attacker.  He is also sent to the infirmary to heal.  During his convalescence, he and Rawlins are ransomed by Alejandra’s aunt, on the condition that she never see John Grady again.  Rawlins returns to Texas, while John Grady attempts to reconnect with Alejandra.  The two meet but Alejandra refuses John Grady’s proposal, despite being in love with him.  John Grady returns to the town where all of his troubles began and reclaims his horse, along with those belonging to Rawlins and Blevins.  He also takes the police captain who had executed Blevins as a hostage.  He again flees a group of riders, eventually losing them.  After the captain is taken from him by another group of Mexican riders, John Grady returns to Texas with an uncertain future and a wounded spirit.

This book is amazing.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friend Seth Daulton at Surf Waco for the recommendation.  McCarthy is the greatest American novelist I have read in recent memory, a worthy successor to Hemingway and Faulkner.  All the Pretty Horses is the first book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.  I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I immediately purchased the next two books when I finished reading this volume.  This book is as close to perfect as any I have ever read.

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