It’s 1949, and sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole plans to leave Texas after his grandfather’s funeral. His mother is selling the old family ranch, built in 1872. John Grady has a deep love of horses and the ranch life. If allowed, he would try to run the ranch himself, but his mother refuses to consider it. It is clear that he and his mother don’t get along, but that they love one another. John’s father, divorced from his mother, is dying. He and John get along well.
John sets out to Mexico with his friend, Lacy Rawlings. Before leaving, the two run into a girl John has dated. When Rawlings comments that girls aren’t worth the trouble John puts into them, John answers, “Yes, they are.” He seems a modern-day Romeo who will fall deeply and tragically for the right girl.
The two guys have many adventures on their way through Mexico. Of most significance is their meeting with the young Jimmy Belvins. Jimmy, riding a beautiful stolen horse, follows them, and trouble begins. On the run, Jimmy separates from the two older boys. John Grady and Lacey find work at the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcionin Coahuila. The owner, Don Hector Rocha y Villareal, treats them well and entrusts John Grady with breaking wild horses. But Grady is smitten with Alejandra of the black hair and blue eyes. When Alejandra’s great-aunt finds out that the two are star-crossed, she intervenes. She’s a philosophical woman and her stories of the Mexican Revolution and of life are fascinating for the reader. However, she knows what a bad reputation can do to a woman in Mexico, and has decided against John Grady. One day, seemingly out of the blue, John Grady and Lacey are arrested.
The adventures keep coming with jail, the reappearance of Jimmy Belvins the thief and more.
This book was recommended to me in way back time when I asked for ‘guys’ titles. Although I do think this will be a good read for high school guys—and lament the choice of a title, which I think guys will automatically turn away from—I also thoroughly enjoyed it myself. It has the stuff of a great bildungsroman (coming of age story)—an odyssey away from home, death of/break with the parents, a great romance, imprisonment, loss of the loved one, recovery of property, etc. Yet the language is poetic and the description vivid—it draws the reader to its rhythm. Conversations are often metaphysical without seeming unnatural. It’s a great read, and while hardly gentle—in fact, there’s lots of violence—it’s a way to ease into the stunning work of its author, Cormac McCarthy.
In a periodic series on difficult topics for teen reading (violence, teen sexuality, and the like), I’ll be posting on McCarthy’s work. Check back.