Every now and again a piece of fiction stands out. This one was written 25 years ago, as the first in Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy.
So good that I finished it at around 6 a.m. this morning. Adventure just after the end of WW2 involving two 16- and 17-year old Texan lads who cross into Mexico by horseback, without a plan, and secure employment at a large ranch. The descriptions of the land, and the animals, are exquisite.
All of the characters are physical and practical, no abstract notions getting in the way of staying alive in a generally hostile environment. Foreboding and violence never far away. Nothing comes easy. Some challenges cannot be met. The joy of eating after days of hunger, and the unsurpassed feeling of sunshine on skin, jump out of the pages.
The main character John Grady adores and understands horses. Fairness, equity and an eye for opportunity run through him, bouncing back the plentiful decency of strangers along his paths. When under threat, his pragmatic violence flows just as naturally.
Some of the clipped dialogue was reminiscent of Hemingway at his best, particularly the romance. Plenty of simple Spanish is thrown in, where the meaning peeks through to the uninitiated.
Pages just kept getting turned. What’s next? How can he endure?
Cars and radios and oil derricks were dotted across the last pages. Social changes afoot that will eradicate deeply embedded American skill-sets.
Easily the best thing I’ve read for some time.