Martine's Reviews > All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
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I seldom abandon books after reading just a couple of pages, but in this case I had no choice. Two pages into the book I was so annoyed by McCarthy's random use of apostrophes and near-total lack of commas that I felt I had better stop reading to prevent an aneurysm. I'm sure McCarthy is a great storyteller, but unless someone convinces me he has found a competent proof-reader who is not afraid to add some four thousand commas to each of his books, I'll never read another line he's written. I can only tolerate so many crimes against grammar and punctuation.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)


message 1: by Bibliomantic (new)

Bibliomantic Denuding his text of punctuation seems to be McCarthy's trademark. Maybe he wants it to give his work a rustic touch, I don't really know. Perhaps he has answered this question in an interview. I've heard that he modeled himself after James Joyce, who, he believes, minimized punctuation as much as possible. Others theorize that it's to replicate Southern manner of speech. Whatever the reason, I somehow got used to it in 'The Road.'
Nevertheless, I hear that this particular trilogy's infractions against common usage are truly atrocious. An article I thoroughly enjoyed when it came out a few years ago takes McCarthy and others to task for this and other offenses: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200107...


message 2: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly Woooow. And people told me to start with this one to ease into McCarthy, too...


message 3: by Bibliomantic (last edited Jun 25, 2008 01:53PM) (new)

Bibliomantic Jumping all in into a McCarthy trilogy as initiation? That would be like pulling a large bandage off a hairy part of the arm, or worse, a leg (though I certainly hope the latter does not apply in this case).


Martine Wow, that's quite an interesting article, Bibliomantic. I have no time to read all of it right now, but it looks like something I'll return to every now and then. Thanks!

I agree with the author's main point, i.e. that it's hard to find a book these days which combines beautiful writing with good storytelling. Take Martin Amis, for instance -- I'm in awe of his prose, but I hate his characters, so I feel indifferent to his books. Or take Jonathan Safran Foer, Mark Z. Danielewski cum suis -- wonderful ideas, good writing styles, but so in love with their own gimmicks that their storytelling suffers. No wonder I keep turning to nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century classics, where you'll find beautifully crafted sentences that really serve the story. How I wish today's authors would learn a lesson from their predecessors... Ian McEwan excepted, obviously. :-)

Kelly, before you get started on All the Pretty Horses, see if you can stomach this:

"While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned."

That sentence, lifted from the article Bibliomantic referred to, is from All the Pretty Horses. Can you see why I put the book aside after two pages? It made me want to scream. Honestly, it did.


Martine On having another look at the article, I see it doesn't actually say much about the kind of gimmickry and hyper-postmodern story-telling I was referring to; it just focuses on different writing styles and their problems, and comes up with some excruciating examples. I still think McCarthy's style is the worst. Interesting to see that he did once use proper punctuation, though. Maybe I'll give his older prose a try if I'm ever in a forgiving mood.


message 6: by Taylor K. (new)

Taylor K. Wow. He was a little lax with punctuation in No Country for Old Men, but not jarringly so. That quote from All The Pretty Horses is horrific, though!


Paul Dear all - I think there are numerous others who deliberately punctuate wrongly and use poor grammar (e.g. MacCarthy's constant use of and...and...and... which everyone takes as Biblical) but there's a distinction to be made. The guy I would compare with MacCarthy in this rulebreaking is Jose Saramago (masterpiece : Blindness - it took me weeks to read because of its difficulty). I think I could add the novels of Samuel Beckett in here as well. These are writers who break the rules in their own "omniscient narrator" voice which is why it seems so confrontational. However there are a zillion authors from Irvine Welch to Faulkner to Emily Bronte (check out the first few pages of Wuthering Heights) who write in dialect which involves much crazy grammar. And a couple who made up their own version of English (Clockwork Orange). (As for Joyce, Bibliomantic, I think you have in mind the famous Molly Bloom soliloquy which is the last completely unpunctuated uncapitalised 100 pages of Ulysses. But there are 600 other pages with plenty of punctuation ).


message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 26, 2008 10:55AM) (new)

Geez, maybe my favorite book ever, definitely in the top ten. I must not have any taste. Me so dumb. Me so uncultured.


message 9: by Taylor K. (new)

Taylor K. Ooh, Samuel Beckett, definitely. There are definitely a ton of authors who do this, but I don't think it's unfair to ask questions concerning readability. I started reading Molloy - when I was, admittedly, too young - and I loved it, but I don't know that I got past the first 20 pages.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Donald, you're hard core. That's a compliment.


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul By the way, the article was published as a very small book

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10...


message 12: by RandomAnthony (last edited Jun 26, 2008 11:55AM) (new)

RandomAnthony I'm with Donald on this one. Definitely in my top five...All the Pretty Horses is the work of a genius at his peak. You need to be able to stretch your thinking and perceptions of language to get into this book...trust me, it's not like McCarthy never studied grammar. He understands it so well he knows how to break the rules to use language in new and powerful ways. If you're going to be a seventh grade teacher with a little red pen, marking things off, then this book isn't for you, I agree. Read something more conventional and less challenging.


message 13: by Taylor K. (new)

Taylor K. He understands it so well he knows how to break the rules to use language in new and powerful ways.

I do love it when people do this. I'm reading Rushdie's Midnight's Children at the moment, and though he doesn't do that to the extent that someone like McCarthy does, he does it from time to time and it always blows my mind (in a good way).


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I consider McCarthy one of the premier stylists in America. His language sings and he is firmly rooted in the American grain. His is a style earned and arrived at as Brian said. He is an heir to Faulkner and close to his equal to my mind. I treasure his work as much as any living author, for the breadth of his vision, the complexity of his craft and no small amount of wisdom at the heart of his books.


message 15: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony Well said, my friend.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks RA and thanks for having Cormac and my back(s).


message 17: by Bibliomantic (new)

Bibliomantic Not to displease McCormac fans, but while I would admit that he's very good when it comes to atmosphere and imagery, I would not call him a master stylist.


message 18: by Bibliomantic (new)

Bibliomantic Paul, then there is Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, which consists of (I think) five 40+page chapters, some or all written as single sentences. They read swimmingly, by the way. Maybe punctuation is inessential(.)


message 19: by Martine (last edited Jun 26, 2008 03:21PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Martine Wow. Talk about a post getting hijacked by people you hardly know... Welcome, people. Sorry if I criticised an author some of you clearly like. :-)

Donald, at the risk of offending you, I honestly can't see how anyone could call McCarthy a great stylist. If uniqueness of style were the only criterion for such an epithet, then McCarthy would obviously qualify, but I'd like to think there's more to style than uniqueness. I honestly don't care for originality when it's utterly unreadable, and yes, I found McCarthy to be utterly unreadable. I tried not to be the seventh-grade school teacher with the little red pen that Randomanthony mentioned, but at the end of the day, I am a professional proof-reader, and it affects the way I read books, in that I find myself mentally correcting faulty grammar and supplying missing commas while skimming texts. I wish I could stop doing it when reading non-work-related texts, but I can't; I simply can't switch off my inner proof-reader to the extent that Cormac McCarthy seems to want me to. Which means I can't read his books without risking the onset of brain fever. If that means I'm missing out on some good stories with amazing imagery and atmosphere, so be it. I'm glad to hear you at least enjoy his works, Donald and Randomanthony. The world would be a sorry place if everyone shared my obsession with commas. :-)

As for other notoriously hard-to-read books, I find them very hit or miss. I love A Clockwork Orange because I'm enough of a linguist to appreciate what Burgess achieved in that book, but I'll freely admit I found the first few pages excruciatingly hard to get through -- almost cruelly so. Likewise the futuristic chapter of Cloud Atlas (one of my favourite books of the last few years). The made-up language used in that is hard to get into, but once you're used to it, it's quite impressive. I'm no great fan of Joyce's, but it's been years since I tried my hand at his more experimental fiction; I'm considering giving it another try at some point. Saramago's Blindness is on my to-read-soon list. I fully expect that book to frustrate me, as well, but as long as Saramago's use of commas isn't like McCarthy's, I'll probably give the book a serious chance. I may give Russell Hoban a miss, though. I know people who adore his books, but I think they may be a step too far for me. Has anyone here read any of them?



message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Yes, and we could rope in here the Oulipo group of writers who enjoyed setting themselves mindbending tasks such as writing a whole novel without using the letter E or writing a whole novel with E as the only vowel allowed - you can bet it lead to some grammatical straining.


message 21: by RandomAnthony (last edited Jun 26, 2008 05:12PM) (new)

RandomAnthony That seems like a fair assessment, Martine. If you love the grammar and structure so much it's part of your professional life, even, then I can understand why his work isn't for you. Personally I struggle with Henry James, etc. and the like. But I can understand why some readers like Henry James. He's just not for me.


Martine Fair enough, Randomanthony. Let's just agree to disagree on McCarthy, eh?

For what it's worth, I can see why you (or anyone else for that matter) would struggle with Henry James. His early works are quite readable, but the later ones can be a terrible slog to get through. I put The Ambassadors aside twice after the first chapter because I just couldn't get through it. Somehow, though, it clicked the third time around, and I now find myself capable of reading and even enjoying James' later works. They're an acquired taste, though. I fully admit that.

Glad we do at least see eye to eye on Murakami. :-)


message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul There was a quip in the 1920s - "he speaks three languages, English, French and Henry James."


Martine Tee hee. I like that, Paul. I guess that's why I like James; he speeks to my inner linguist!


Whitney Try reading McCarthy's Blood Meridian, with three page long sentences.



message 26: by Eric_W (new) - added it

Eric_W I recommend listening to McCarthy (read by Frank Muller whom I normally don't care for that much, but here he is outstanding). You get a very different flavor. McCarthy's stories are really meant to be told and they work very well. When I read Angela's Ashes, the lack of punctuation drove me nuts for the first chapter and I almost put it down. I'm glad I didn't. I just let the story flow and it was great.


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

I am also surprised that none of the people here who like McCarthy mentioned that the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses are VERY different from the rest of the book. Whenever I give this book to a friend, I always tell them to force their way through the beginning until the boys head out together. Because that first page or two-long sentence about a candle flickering is a killer, man...


message 28: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Stachura Cormac McCarthy is in my opinion the greatest prosewriter alive today, and especially of postmodern literature. If you are not well-read enough to understand his mastery of language and style, then stick with Candace Bushnell or something disgustingly inane and trite. Don't diss something because you don't understand it. Either work towards understanding it or leave no comment at all because some people actually read these comments and base their literary choices on it and I would hate for someone to miss out on McCarthy's genius.


Nicole Martine you took the words right out of my mouth and put them on your goodreads review. I am only a few pages into All the Pretty Horses and I'm ready to throw it down and never return to it! Horrible!


message 30: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Hebert Please give Mccarthy's novels more of a chance than "a few pages in and ready to throw it down and never return." Its honestly laughable that people here are considering him a horrible writer when he is constantly praised as the greatest living american writer. It might not feel as comfortable as other works but his novels are entirely worth the time and effort.


Rasma If what you want out of literature is predictable punctuation, read Dick & Jane. There's poetic license in writing that allows the means to be part of the message. The style is part of the story. I suggest you give this one another try in a decade or so. It may strike you differently.


message 32: by Rasma (last edited Jan 25, 2010 03:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rasma AJ wrote: "I am also surprised that none of the people here who like McCarthy mentioned that the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses are VERY .." and you probably skip the intros to movies too,right?




message 33: by Martine (last edited Jan 25, 2010 06:35PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Martine Rasma said: If what you want out of literature is predictable punctuation, read Dick & Jane. There's poetic license in writing that allows the means to be part of the message. The style is part of the story. I suggest you give this one another try in a decade or so. It may strike you differently.

I doubt it, Rasma. I'm not a young reader whose taste in literature still has to be developed and shaped. I'm a mature reader who knows what she likes and doesn't like. I also happen to be, for better or worse, a professional proof-reader, which means that things like punctuation and correct use of apostrophes matter to me. I can't read books by authors who flaunt rules I hold dear, because reading such books aggravates me. If that means I'm missing out on a few good stories, so be it. I have about six hundred other unread books sitting on my shelves, so I guess I'll have to get my good stories from them. :-)


message 34: by Kelly (last edited Jan 25, 2010 06:23PM) (new) - added it

Kelly There's poetic license in writing that allows the means to be part of the message. The style is part of the story. I suggest you give this one another try in a decade or so. It may strike you differently.

Oh Rasma thank you! I'm so delighted that you're here to enlighten us, otherwise we might never have remembered that blindingly obvious fact we all learned in middle school. I'm glad you felt it worth your time to deliver some drive by condescension to us heathens. Don't know what Martine would have done without you.

Martine, I agree- Life is too short to read books that don't speak to you! The style I can't deal with is Hemingway's (unless we're talking A Moveable Feast, when he's writing about Fitz). I understand why it is important and innovative but I just feel like death when I read it. I can't do it.


Michael Hi, just another person you don't know here, shouldering my way into the party...I don't suppose there are any snacks left?

Anyway, I dropped by to say that I began All the Pretty Horses many years ago, and it's only because of my intense masochism that I finished the damned thing. Then, because my masochism truly knows no bounds, I continued the Border Trilogy. I read book two and liked it a lot more. Then, I read book three and loved it. Since then, I've read almost all of McCarthy's books, and he's one of my favorite authors.

WAIT WAIT WAIT! I'm not telling you to try, try again. Forget All the Pretty Horses. What I dropped by to say is that, after reading most of his books, then going back and reading the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses just last week, I STILL found it almost impenetrable. What I'm saying is, if you are so inclined to give him a shot in the future, try ANY of his other books instead. Granted, he has never, and will never, use a comma. But his style isn't a hindrance in The Road, The Orchard Keeper, Blood Meridian, or...well, pretty much anything else he has written.




message 36: by Pat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pat I was so taken by the descriptions in the first few pages that I had to check with my son that I wasn't over reacting to the artistry. This is the only book I have ever read by Cormac McCarthy but won't be the last. I found it stunning and chilling.


Christian I loved the book. I think it's sad if people give it a pass due to reviews like this.

At least get it as an audiobook or something, if the style irks you.


message 38: by Anja (new) - added it

Anja Martine wrote: "While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned."

Now I understand why I struggle with this book! I am currently reading it in Norwegian, and it looks like his language is ruined by the translation. It is not the missing commas that is my problem (I've read The Road and loved it), but the language itself.


Robert Spencer Isn't criticising McCarthy because of incorrect usage of punctuation a bit like dismissing Picasso on the basis of incorrect understanding of facial physiognomy? Utterly irrelevant, surely.


Rasma Robert wrote: "Isn't criticising McCarthy because of incorrect usage of punctuation a bit like dismissing Picasso on the basis of incorrect understanding of facial physiognomy? Utterly irrelevant, surely."

Well put. Bravo. Touché.

It is utterly ironic that someone who admits to having read only two pages of this book is responsible for the gathering of so many who actually read and understood it.

Crimes against grammar and punctuation? Let us all be guilty of that, and revel in the pleasure of good literature.


Nathaniel Matychuk I'm sure somebody has burned your trailer home down for such comments. On the off hand chance that you lived, I commend you for pissing off legions of McCarthy fans, like me, off for not getting that his unique take (some would say critique) of grammar is a big part of what he does.


Nathan Phillips Just so you know -
McCarthys said that he doesnt use apostrophes and commas because they muddle up the page and that any good writer can convey meaning and intent in a sentence without them.
Ive read a good deal of McCarthy and have found his use of language thrilling. There have been maybe two sentences that Ive had to stop and reread to find its meaning which is less than I would in a book such as Kavalier and Clay by Chabon.
There is a poetry to the grammar as well. Southerners speak in either very short declarative simple sentences. Or in elongated compound sentences. McCarthys narration may not suit you but his dialogue and the poetry of his prose is astounding.
Perhaps if you were not a proofreader the books would be more enjoyable. You should quit. His books are worth it.


Cameron Holy crap you couldn't get past two pages because he doesn't use unnecessary commas? That's just silly.


Jason Bickford Moron.


message 45: by Roz (new) - added it

Roz Playing with grammar is one of Mccarthy's trademarks. It is part of what makes his writing so genius. I highly suggest giving him another try. He is one of the most remarkable authors out there.


message 46: by Kass (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kass Kent I understand your initial frustration; I only just began reading Cormac McCatharthy's work a couple months ago, and the my first attempt was a pretty frustrating one. I consumed volumes of classical literature growing up and his style of prose first struck me as unorganized, cumbersome, and precisely what I simply could not indulge. I tried again. And again. It took me a while to let myself approach his work without trying to measure it's value against my pre-constructed checklist for the 'technical approach to good literature'. Ease up a bit and let the story tell itself. Once you let it, McCarthy's style (excusing my corny lyricism) sweeps you up, builds into swells to crest, and dashes you back against the surface of the brutal yet beautiful reality he has painted. I never thought I'd say it, but in this case, grammatically precise prose could never effect with such shattering impact the message that McCarthy's unorthodox style achieves so profoundly. In short, I strongly suggest you give it another go. It's worth it.


Craig James Joyce eschewed punctuation and other rules of grammar as well.


message 48: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara There is a good deal of this literary device in modern writing, I agree. But however difficult to stomach, or even suffer through, it may be, I believe it usually adds a level of motion and pace to many stories. A good example, in addition to McCarthy, would have to The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I think it would be generous to say that the entire book is made up of only ten sentences. While it's exhausting to experience, I think there is something worthwhile in being able reach into the author through that language and find the voice they're trying to convey.


Michael Forstadt Wow. Keep an open mind. My son also abandoned the book after two pages, for the same reasons as you. You've only denied yourself a masterpiece of American literature. Like his characters of the American southwest, McCarthy's prose and punctuation is no-nonsense, the perfect way to fully frame and illuminate his stark story.


Stephanie Yes, this particular book has very many detailed run-ons and punctuation problems, I agree. But you should start off with THE ROAD by McCarthy. I found that this one is a great opener to his writing style. If not this one, I believe you should at least try out THE ROAD.


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