All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy is a unique coming of age story. Already matured and weathered by family issues, a teenage boy ages even more when he not only finds horses, but love, too—and what the floor of a Mexican jail smells and feels like.
When his mother sells their horse ranch in Texas, John Grady Cole, age 16, becomes disillusioned with her, and with his country, America, in general. He packs up his horse, and the new saddle his estranged father just gave him, and talks his cousin, Rawlins, into riding with him into Mexico. He’s sure they’ll find the unspoiled ranchers life there, and ride into the sunset with All the Pretty Horses of his dreams.
Not long into their trip, the boys sense another rider stalking them and soon become burdened with a smart-mouthed, hot-tempered boy named Blivens. Blivens brags, lies, and shows off a gun, which he swears is his and proves to be adept with. He begs them to let him ride with them. Rawlins tries to convince John Grady to ditch him, but John Grady feels the kid won’t make it on his own and lets him come along.
Blivens loses his horse and most of his possessions during a storm. Riding behind John Grady, he catches sight of them, in another man’s possession, at the next town. The boys agree to steal back just the horse, and they commence to do this foolish thing. During the ensuing chase, Blivens takes off in a different direction. Rid of him, John Grady and Rawlins turn south and get on with their journey.
They get jobs at a long-established horse ranch, after being questioned extensively about why they are there. Working at what they love, the two try to forget about Blivens, but deep inside they worry that their brief encounter with the hot-head is going to come back to haunt them.
John Grady falls in love with the ranch owner’s young daughter, which only means more trouble as far as Rawlins sees it. (Honor is all a woman has in this country, and the girl’s family intends to protect hers.)
Trouble does come, and the boys live a hard life in a short time as Americans (with no money) in a Mexican jail. They face charges for theft and murder, but their dauntless youth keeps them from kowtowing for any reason. This story is a delicate portrayal of that stubborn, free-spirited time called “youth,” clashing, abruptly, with the wing-clipping, all-powerful control of potent adults.
Frank Muller is a very versatile reader and truly gives the text an eloquent dimension.