What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise. Ch.I

All the Pretty Horses is a novel by American author Cormac McCarthy. The novel was published in 1992 and won the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, and seems to be the book that brought McCarthy into the public limelight, which may or may not be important.

nexxus does a fine job summarising the plot in the writeup above. As you can read there, the plot is simple; deceptively so. The blurb might read: "Two boys run away to Mexico where they discover a horse thief, fall in love with the daughter of a rich landlord only to find themselves incarcerated for this crime".

[...] they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised. Ch.III


There are a few notable quirks that justify calling this summary misleading. The first is the style of plot development. Given the above summary, it would be reasonable to expect that A leads to problem B which is resolved by C. As those who've read McCarthy before will already know, this author's stories tend to evolve out of themselves. It feels like everything's progressing naturally, without tending towards some sort of expected three-act format. Some might argue that this would result in a lack of focus, but those people obviously have not read McCarthy.

In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments. Those whom life does not cure death will. Ch.IV

One plot surprise is the age of the participants. They're both teenagers. This feeds into what I wanted to say next: McCarthy's novels tend to be evoke feelings of Biblical intensity. The simplest things can weigh down on their participants and audience. The young age of the protagonists contrasts that intensity, bringing a strange innocence into their trials. There is something of a tremendous tension in the simplicity of McCarthy's world, and even a minimalistic scene may threaten to rupture due to its power.

[The old man] asked that God remember those who had died and he asked that the living gathered together here remember that corn grows by the will of God and beyond that will there is neither corn nor growing nor light nor air nor anything at all save only darkness. Then they ate. Ch.IV

Misc. notes:

All the Pretty Horses is the first book of The Border Trilogy books, which comprise also The Crossing and Cities of the Plain. Each of the novels form a self-contained story; it is only in Cities of the Plain that the books intersect.

The desert he rode was red and red the dust he raised, the small dust that powdered the legs of the horse he rode, the horse he led. In the evening a wind cam up and reddened all the sky before him. There were few cattle in that country because it was barren country indeed yet he came at evening upon a solitary bull rolling in the dust against the bloodred sunset like an animal in sacrificial torment. The bloodred dust blew down out of the sun. He touched the horse with his heels and rode on. He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among dry bracken and horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come. Ch.IV (Last lines)

That veritable fountain of knowledge tells me that All the Pretty Horses is also the name of a traditional Southern African-American lullaby. I was not previously aware of there being any link to a lullaby, and looking through the lyrics doesn't obviously suggest one. I would guess that either the connection is completely fortuitous, or, more likely, the link is geographical, reflecting McCarthy's southern gothic and western tendencies.

The novel was made into a movie in 2000, and which I hear is disappointing. In any case, it seems like a difficult book to adapt. (Having said that, I would have made the same comment about McCarthy's The Road which was impressively adapted into film in 2009).

References: Wikipedia, National Book Awards Acceptance Speech ([link]), and obviously the novel itself!