Saturday, December 20, 2008

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

When this novel came out in paperback in 1993, amid a lot of hype, a copy quickly found its way onto my TBR shelf. However, a bookmark in page 20 evidenced the early invocation of the “rule of fifty.” When it showed up on a reading list for a graduate English class, dismay overcame me, but I figured a lot of time had passed, and maybe a different attitude would prevail.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. These characters are boring. They have boring conversations about horses, which I neither care about nor understand. To make matters worse, the characters conduct conversations in Spanish, which sometimes go on for pages. Maybe one in five lines could be resolved through context clues or actions. A simple Spanish dictionary was not much help. The “rule” was not an option this time, so page after page I suffered and slogged.

Then I arrived at page 227 (of 302), and a fascinating conversation between John Grady Cole and the duenna of the hacienda “La Purisima” began. The entire thing, to page 241, had only an occasional word in Spanish. The woman provided a great deal of background of the Mexican characters, and answered quite a few puzzles of the plot. Towards the end of this conversation, several lines of Spanish appeared, but this time several context clues permitted an understanding.

The question of why Cole and Rawlins went to Mexico is still a mystery. Why the duenna bailed these cowboys out of prison, and gave them money and horses to get home, is likewise unresolved.

Clues as to the time of these events were also confusing. Sometimes, it appeared to be the 1990s, and other times the 40s or 50s or 60s.

Recently, I read McCarthy’s novel The Road, and I thought it was a great read, so I intended to try his Horses again. But the rule of fifty is an excellent guide. More often than not, my instincts prove to be accurate. 2 stars (only for pages 227 to 241)

--Chiron, 12/20/08

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