All the Pretty Horses is a novel by U.S. author Cormac McCarthy published in 1992. Its romanticism (in contrast to the bleakness of McCarthy's earlier work) brought the writer much public attention. The novel was a bestseller and won the U.S. National Book Award. It is also the first of McCarthy's "Border Trilogy."
The novel tells of John Grady Cole, a seventeen year old cowboy who grew up on his grandmother's ranch in west Texas. The story begins soon after the death of John Grady's grandfather, and John Grady learns that the ranch is to be sold. Faced with the prospect of moving into town, John Grady instead chooses to leave, convincing his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, to accompany him. Traveling by horseback, the pair travel Southward into Mexico, where they hope to find work as cowboys.
Shortly before they cross the Mexican border, they encounter a young man, who says he is named Jimmy Blevins and seems to be aged about thirteen, but claims to be older. Blevins' origins, and even if Blevins is his real name, are never made clear. Blevins is riding a huge bay horse that is far too fine a horse to be the property of a runaway boy, but Blevins insists it is his. As they travel north, Blevins loses his horse and pistol in a thunderstorm. They are found by a local Mexican.
Blevins convinces John Grady and Rawlins to go to the nearest town to find the person who took the horse and pistol. They find the horse, and Blevins steals it. As the three are running away from the town, they are pursued, and Blevins separates from Rawlins and John Grady. The pursuers follow Blevins, and Rawlins and Grady escape.
Rawlins and John Grady travel further south and find employment at a large ranch. There John Grady first encounters the ranch owner's beautiful daughter, Alejandra. As Rawlins pursues work with the ranch hands, John Grady catches the eye of the owner, who brings him into the ranch house and gives him greater duties. At this time John Grady begins his affair with Alejandra.
In the meantime, Blevins works for a short time and then returns to the village where he stole back his horse, this time to retrieve the Colt pistol that was also stolen from him. In the process of getting the pistol he shoots and kills someone. The Mexican authorities catch Blevins and then find Rawlins and John Grady at the other ranch. At first, the ranch owner protects the boys, but when he finds out about the affair with his daughter he turns them over to the authorities.
Blevins is executed by a group of rogue police led by a captain and then Rawlins and John Grady are placed in a Mexican prison. Alejandra finds out about the imprisonment and convinces her aunt to ransom the two boys in exchange for the promise that she will never see John Grady again. The boys are released. Rawlins goes back to the United States and John Grady tries to see Alejandra again. In the end, after a brief encounter, Alejandra decides that she must keep her promise to her family and refuses John Grady's marriage proposal. Grady, on his way back to the U.S. kidnaps the captain at gunpoint forces him to recover the stolen horses and guns, and flees across country. He considers killing the man, but lets him leave when they are waylaid by country folk. Grady eventually returns to the US, and attempts to find the original owner of Blevin's horse.
Although the night was cool the double doors of the grange stood open and the man selling the tickets was seated in a chair on a raised wooden platform just within the doors so that he must lean down to each in a gesture akin to benevolence and take their coins and hand them down their tickets or pass upon the ticketstubs of those who were only returning from outside. The old adobe hall was buttressed along its outer walls with piers not all of which had been a part of its design and there were no windows and the walls were swagged and cracked. A string of electric bulbs ran the length of the hall at either side and the bulbs were covered with paper bags that had been painted and the brushstrokes showed through in the light and the reds and greens and blues were all muted and much of a piece. The floor was swept but there were pockets of seeds underfoot and drifts of straw and at the far end of the hall a small orchestra labored on a stage of grainpallets under a bandshell rigged from sheeting. Along the foot of the stage were lights set in fruitcans among colored crepe that smoldered throughout the night. The mouths of the cans were lensed with tinted cellophane and they cast upon the sheeting a shadowplay in the lights and smoke of antic demon players and a pair of goathawks arced chittering through the partial darkness overhead.
Such descriptions transcend the scenes they are describing and bring into play McCarthy's deeply spiritual ruminations. In this passage, McCarthy reflects on the nature of evil.
He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits.
- Ibid. pp. 256-257