Cormac McCarthy has written a lot of books, and when you’ve written a lot of books, it’s because people out there like what you’ve written, and are paying good money to read it, enabling you to continue writing books without a real job interfering. OR, you have a low-motion job like graveyard shift security guard at a paper museum, and load of money to keep paying off a publisher. OR you write romances.
Given that Cormac McCarthy does not write romances, and (as far as I know) is not a security guard, and that I keep hearing buzzings about his latest book, The Road, which is now on Oprah’s Book Club list (awesome…?), AND that our teensy college library has every single one of his books (except, of course, The Road, because we will always be two years behind), I figured I should give All the Pretty Horses a shot.
At least a quarter of the damn novel was lost on me.
McCarthy opts not to refer to his characters by name for the first chapter-sized chunk, which gets pretty rough, especially when he drops into a flashback, and now the ‘he’ he’s talking about is a different ‘he’ from the first ‘he,’ or maybe it’s the same ‘he,’ but you strongly suspect that the first ‘he’ is the character who is finally given a name when the flashback ends in the middle of p. 7, but not referred to by that name until the bottom of p. 29. Add to this that he refuses to use dialogue tags (‘he said,’ ‘she said’) or quotation marks which, fine, stylistic choice, and by the time you’re halfway through you recognize whose voice is whose anyways, but those first twenty pages? Damn. People start talking in the middle of a paragraph, and there’s nothing to alert you, the Constant Reader, so you’re reading along and…the hell? How’d we end up in a conversation? And why is this conversation in Spanish?
Half the conversations are in Spanish. The book is set on the Texas-Mexico border, and mostly in Mexico, so I get it, they speak Spanish there. But I don’t speak Spanish. Do you speak Spanish? No, you don’t. Neither does one of the characters, Rawlins. So sometimes he’ll ‘What’d they say’ to Cole, who does speak Spanish, and Cole will ‘splain. But most of the time, and all the important times, Rawlins isn’t around, because Cole is the main character, see. Then, we’re left hoping that whoever’s being talked at will respond in English, or nod and get up and get the guy’s gun, or that something will happen that helps us to follow. But there are whole conversations in Spanish in which nobody moves except to maybe brush away a fly. Muay frustratanto. I made that up. Remember? I don’t speak Spanish.
So. Too much not-English, not enough naming of the characters or delineating speech. Fine. These are not things to kill a book, just things to slow the reading of it waaaaaaaay down. The story itself is quite good. Again, the whole first part is kind of a blur, but somehow John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins end up south of the border with some random skinny kid they picked up along the way. As young Texans in Mexico will do, they get themselves jobs ranching, get shot at a few times, get thrown in jail once, one of them wins the heart of a lady. There are horses, much riding them and herding them and breaking in wild ones. Exciting stuff. The prose is exactly that sort of flat, run-on prose that I kind of hate but that other people call ‘poetic.’ Very descriptive in parts.
You know what? I can’t think of any reasons why you should read this book instead of going out and renting the movie. It’s got Matt Damon in it. And Penelope Cruz, if Damon doesn’t float your boat. I’m sure the movie found a way around all that Spanish, and you wouldn’t have to deal with dialogue tags, because people in movies have faces. I don’t know that I’ve ever said this about a book, but the movie is probably better. Rent it. Exciting things happen at the end, I promise.
The book? Five caterpillars.