All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

In 1949, two teenage boys leave their homes in Texas and ride their horses to Mexico. They meet another boy along the way, who eventually loses his horse and winds up in jail. The other boys get jobs working on a big ranch. One of them, the main character, falls in love with the rancher’s daughter. Unfortunately, the police are on their trail, wrongly believing that all three boys are horse thieves. Things do not go well after that.

All the Pretty HorsesΒ is the first novel in McCarthy’sΒ Border Trilogy. I don’t know if I’ll read the next one. This one was worth reading, but not very convincing. The main character, who is 16 or 17, is almost a superhero. In addition, the novel contains way too many run-on sentences and too much dialog in Spanish.

Two passages near the end of the book:

“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”

“… for a moment he held out his hands as if to steady himself or as if to bless the ground there or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead.” Β (11/19/12)

Horseman, Pass By, by Larry McMurtry

Horseman, Pass ByΒ was McMurtry’s first novel. It was the basis forΒ Hud, the classic movie from 1963Β about a small Texas cattle ranch facing a crisis.Β 

The screenplay didn’t change the setting or plot, but several improvements were made. Some unnecessary characters (a grandmother, some ranch hands) were eliminated. The role of Hud was greatly expanded (the horseman in the novel’s title refers to Hud’s father, not Hud).Β The black housekeeper Almea became the white housekeeper Alma.Β 

That last change was an improvement because it resulted in a more interesting, less predatory relationship between Hud and the housekeeper, a deeper relationship that doesn’t seem possible in the book, partly because of the way McMurtry writes what Almea says (“dese”, “dat”, “I needs to be leavin'” etc.).

This is one of those cases in which the film version is better than the original material. Β (8/17/12)

End Zone by Don DeLillo

I took a walk this evening. I could write about the eerie quiet of my suburban neighborhood at twilight, or the odd geometry of the local high school’s main building, or the etiquette that applies to meeting another pedestrian. If I strung together enough such descriptions and observations, putting them in the mouths of several characters, I’d have a novel. If I had enough skill, I’d have a novel by Don DeLillo.

End Zone is about a college football player named Gary Harkness. After an erratic career at some larger schools, he has ended up at an obscure college in a desolate part of Texas. Gary has a special interest in nuclear warfare. His fellow players and students and the college staff have their own distinctive peculiarities and concerns, which they discuss with Gary in unrealistically vivid, intellectual language. No small college in Texas has ever had such universally well-spoken football players. The centerpiece of the novel is an engrossing account of a single game.

I was expecting more of a plot, but still enjoyed the book. There is something going on here, although it’s not clear what it is. As usual, DeLillo’s characters have a lot on their minds. Too much, in fact, like many of us. Β (6/3/11)

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

The outstanding 1970 movie was based on this engaging, well-written novel. McMurtry used Archer City, Texas, where he grew up,Β as the model for the fictional town of Thalia, located exactly where Archer City is, about 25 miles south of Wichita Falls in the northeastern part of the state.

The book relates a year in the lives of three high school seniors, three married women and a man who owns the local movie theater, cafe and pool hall. It’s an absorbing story, partly because the main characters tend to be preoccupied with sex, either thinking about it, looking for it, or remembering it. It’s hard to believe that there was that much sexual activity going on in a small town in Texas in 1952, but maybe there wasn’t much else to do around there. Especially after the picture show closed down, soon after the arrival of television.

The movie, which was filmed in Archer City, is very faithful to the book, using a lot of the novel’s dialog. The key incidents are all included in the movie, although some of the sex was eliminated or toned down, including the scene with the cow. Β (3/6/11)

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

A man finds a couple million dollars of drug money and is pursued by killers who want what he found. One of the killers is strangely philosophical to the point of being inhuman. A county sheriff investigates and eventually decides it’s time to retire. It’s not a happy story.

The book moves quickly. The Texas locale and dialog are wonderfully rendered. The sheriff’s words and thoughts are particularly well-done. Even so, the movie added something, especially the performances of Javier Bardem as the otherworldly psychopath and Tommy Lee Jones as the troubled sheriff (the actor grew up in that part of Texas). I’m going to see about reading more of McCarthy’s work. Β (1/21/11)