Monday, June 11, 2007

All the Pretty Horses

I finished Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses on Thursday, and we watched the movie on Friday, so I have a few thoughts to add to Brooks' review.

It is a beautifully written book. Any of you who like Hemingway would probably like it; McCarthy shares his fascination with tough men and strong-minded women, battling the elements despite their internal and external wounds. He has a similar economy of language (especially in dialogue) but a bit more fluency of description. The images are never wasted, though. I have a tendency to skip the scenery when I'm reading. Here I couldn't because it was an audio book, and by the middle of the book I realized how integral the scenery was, not just to the setting, but as icons of his central theme: the interrelationship of violence and beauty.

I'm not sure I agree with Brooks about the women being more effective agents than the men. I think they are more aware than the men of the impotence of all human action against the inexplicable violence of the world, because their greater level of social constraint deprives them of the illusion that they have any control over their lives. The Duene Alfonsa articulates most fully the second theme of the novel: individual responsibility for the things that happen to you even when you have no control.

The importance of place, the struggle of the old world against the new, the coming-of-age, the combination of tough-acting expediency with integrity and a sensitive conscience that might just allow survival--all these things come into play in a narrative that is never forced or heavy-handed. I was afraid all the way through that McCarthy was going to throw some Kafka-esque twist into it and pull the rug out from under all the carefully balanced struggles of violence and beauty, choice and vulnerability. In the end, in this novel at least, he is still a Romantic in the stoic Hemingway tradition and the tenuous balance holds.

The movie made a valiant effort, and was beautifully filmed, but didn't capture the central problems of the book. I read a few reviews: Ebert liked it and realized that it wasn't plot-driven but was meant to convey the feeling of being an adolescent cowboy born too late. Others accused it of being too slow and having no plot or character development. I was at a disadvantage for assessing it because I had read the book so recently that I was essentially re-reading the book with the scenes in the movie as shorthand, but I felt that it was rushing from one episode to the next. It followed the book's structure and dialogue, but it was too heavily weighted on the beauty side of the scale. The violent events happened but without really challenging the attitude of the youthful adventurers. The problem of control and responsibility never emerged at all. I'm not sure how much sense it would really have made if I hadn't read the book, but maybe someone should volunteer to watch it first and then read, and tell me what you make of it. Any takers? Local friends can borrow the audio book; the reader is quite good.

In any case, the book is definitely on the short list for my 2007 Book of the Year. Funny how I'm getting through fiction much faster than the other things on the sidebar list.

1 comment:

Michaela said...

I'm up for the challenge -- I bought the book today, and I'll rent the movie as soon as my Netflix subscription goes through.