ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
Vol. I of The Border Trilogy
McCarthy's work (Blood Meridian, 1985, etc.) is essentially about fatality: grotesque human acts that lack self-direction, that seem to be playing out a design otherwise established. In his more gothic early works, this fatality had a hanging-moss quality that seemed to brush your face invisibly but chillingly as you worked your way through his books. More recently, ever since McCarthy turned into a high-class cowboy novelist, the fatality is, understandably, more spread out--punctured by boredom and ennui and long, lonesome plains. Here, John Cole Grady is a 1930's East Texas teenager, abandoned by his parents' troubles, who sets out with his pal Rawlins to ride across the border to Mexico. Along the way, they pick up an urchin named Blevins and arrive finally at a hacienda, where they're hired to break horses. Grady falls in love with the owner's beautiful daughter--a disaster that leads in succession to arrest and Mexican jail and murder in self-defense. But this cliched plot is not, of course, what one reads a McCarthy novel for. McCarthy is one of the most determined art-prose writers around; and his clean, laconic dialogue is pillowed everywhere with huge gales of imperial style: "While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations and of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves..."--and this is just half of the one sentence: no horse would ever move if it had to parse that out first. Like the late D.H. Lawrence at his worst and most pretentious, all blood-voodoo and animistic design, McCarthy makes an awfully unconvincing lot of a little here.