AllJohn Grady Cole, the last in a long line of west Texas ranchers, is, at sixteen, poised on the sorrowful, painful edge of manhood.
When he realizes the only life he has ever known is disappearing into the past and that cowboys are as doomed as the Comanche who came before them, he leaves on a dangerous and harrowing journey into the beautiful and utterly foreign world that is Mexico. In the guise of a classic Western, All the Pretty Horses is at its heart a lyrical and elegiac coming-of-age story about love, friendship, and loyalty that will leave John Grady, and the reader, changed forever. When his mother decides to sell the cattle ranch he has grown up working, John Grady Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins set out on horseback for Mexico, a land free of the fences and highways that have begun to invade west Texas, a land where the boys are not able to read the look in a man’s eye. As they approach the Rio Grande, they are joined by the youthful and mysterious Jimmy Blevins, whose fine horse, hot-blooded temper, and talent with a pistol are as certain an omen of trouble as the desolate and forbidding landscape stretching out before them. In a violent and freakish thunderstorm, Blevins loses all his worldly possessions; and the foolhardy attempt to recover them soon brands the boys as horse thieves. On the run, they split up, with John Grady and Rawlins finding refuge on a hacienda where few questions are asked and a talent for breaking horses is still a source of honor, and where they fall into a routine as familiar to them as the shape of their saddles.
At night, John Grady rides the patron’s prized sire through the mountains beyond the hacienda in the company of Alejandra, the patron’s beautiful daughter. But in a land as bound by honor and reputation as this is, the white-hot love between John Grady and this girl is as dangerous as anything they will face. When soldiers arrive to take John Grady and Rawlins away, the boys know it has nothing to do with Jimmy Blevins, but is instead because of some deeper, more elusive transgression that John Grady has committed in the name of love. With no one to plead their case, their fate is dire indeed. John Grady and Rawlins find themselves in a Mexican prison governed by stark violence.
But in the hands of Cormac McCarthy this place takes on a dreamlike quality; it is not right or wrong, good or evil, but merely as inevitable a part of life as the sun setting in the West, something that must be faced in order for one to survive. All the Pretty Horses is the first volume in the Border Trilogy (the second volume is entitled The Crossing; and the third, The Cities of the Plain), and this name implies that the text is as much about the arid and desolate landscapes and blood-red skies of the great Southwest as it is about the people who inhabit the region. Together the land and sky form a lyrical tapestry that colors and alters the narrative in subtle and unexpected ways. John Grady’s journey leaves him wiser but saddened, yet out of this heartbreak comes the resilience of a man who has claimed his place in the world. There is no record of John Grady passing through customs on his return to the United States, but we realize he has much to declare.
Written with the lyricism that has made McCarthy one of the great American prose stylists, All the Pretty Horses is at once a bittersweet and profoundly moving tale of love, loss, and redemption and a stunning portrait of Mexico. of fate and the weight of manhood.