Slowing Down My Pretty Horses

During the spring 2020 semester I’m taking a three-hour, on-line class—WRIT 6342: Writing Workshop Fiction II. One of the course objectives is to articulate how various stylistic choices shape a work of fiction. An assignment last week forced me to slowdown my reading and consider the effectiveness of a single sentence, word by word, phrase by phrase, clause by clause. When I teach again, I’ll use this assignment. Each week I have two to three assignments due. Once I submit my work online, my classmates read my work, and I read theirs. We discuss by commenting back and forth to each other.

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All the Pretty Horses Homework

From my professor: For this response you need to read All the Pretty Horses and the chapter on language in How Fiction Works. Find one sentence you would classify as baroque (highly ornate and extravagant in style). In 300 or more words, consider what makes the sentence effective. Yes, I’m asking you to write 300 words about one sentence.

“When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of the horses and the horses’ hooves that were shod in rawhide and the rattle of lances and the constant drag of the travois poles in the sand like the passing of some enormous serpent and the young boys naked on wild horses jaunty as circus riders and hazing wild horses before them and dogs trotting with their tongues aloll and foot-slaves following half naked and sorely burdened and above all the low chant of their traveling song which the riders sang as they rode, nation and ghost of nation passing in a soft chorale across that mineral waste to darkness bearing lost to all history and all remembrance like a grail the sum of their secular and transitory and violent lives” (McCarthy 5).

After his grandfather’s funeral and before we even know our protagonist’s name, John Grady Cole reveals himself as a sentimental dreamer by riding on horseback out to the old Comanche road coming down out of Kiowa country. In this place, he hears the horses and the riders of the past. Narrated in the third-person, each “and” represents an echo of the rhythmic gallop of horses from a time when Indians roamed the land and fought to keep it. Nouns follow the repeated “and” provide more details of the place where Cole grew up, the land he is losing, like the Comanches and Kiowas did, and the unfairness of it all. We hear and see, the horses, their breath, their hooves shod in rawhide, rattling lances carried by the natives for hunting and protection and the drag of travois poles for restraining horses and dragging loads over the land. In this case McCarthy compares the sound of the drag and the image in the sand to “the passing of some enormous serpent.” In Native American cultures, the serpent is a fertility symbol, and others believe the serpent symbolizes the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. Even the word passing makes a hissing sound.

The young boys on wild horses are not much different than John Grady, “jaunty as circus riders and hazing wild horses.” We later see John Grady confidently break sixteen horses in the course of four days. An audience gathers, he performs, and they are mesmerized by the act. McCarthy likens “all remembrance” to a “grail” and in this case a search for a romanticized life. This highly ornate sentence concludes by setting up John Grady Cole’s secular, transitory, violent quest, leaving his dead grandfather’s land behind to be sold and passing from Texas across the Rio Grande in search of adventure as a cowboy in Mexico.

By the way, I watched the Matt Damon movie with Penelope Cruz before I submitted my assignment on Wednesday. Then I finished the book. What can I say? I was a little distracted last week. 

Meanwhile, my daughter Lauren journeyed the six or so miles from her apartment to our house and brought over a box of six puzzles she picked up from Walgreens. We, too, slowed down. We started a 500-piece kite puzzle, revealing the bigger picture, piece by piece, and enjoyed our mother-daughter time—one conversation, one meal, one YouTube video at a time.

This past week reminded me to slow down. I paused long enough to consider puzzles and stories and relationships and priorities. We never know for sure what our weeks will hold, but for this one, I have high hopes as always.

18 thoughts on “Slowing Down My Pretty Horses

    1. Guess what else I did, Coach. I took down my shower curtain liner, threw it in the washing machine, and detailed that bathroom. Puzzles, sparkling bathrooms, and deep conversations might be a three-way tie for ‘the best.’

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Isn’t the puzzle a bit of an analogy? All the pieces that come together to create a life experience? One piece alone cannot create a picture but together they share a message, or more.

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  2. Time increases its quantity, Crystal, and you respond upping its quality. Well played!

    A bit of advice? if I may be so bold, as it recalls my own past experience.

    When you finish the puzzles, pick your favorite, coat it with puzzle preserver, and frame it. Whether you hang it next to a window or prop it against a wall, it’ll be a warming reminder of contented, quality time. A happy antidote to the frenetic pace that’s sure to reassert itself soon enough.

    Oh, as for your prof’s “one sentence” assignment? Reminds me of an Honors Lit class I took as a freshmen. No exaggeration, we spent six weeks considering what Hemingway really “meant” in the first sentence of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Yes, maybe, but sometime’s a cigar is just a cigar.

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    1. Lauren reminded me of a puzzle that we once preserved. She said, “It was babies.” And then I remembered Anne Geddes. It never made it to the wall.

      I haven’t read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” but this week was a further slowdown with Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” I might shoot myself if I had to spend six weeks on one sentence.

      But TAM, the crab cakes! OMG. I must switch back to your post to gush.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoy reading from the perspective of a writer. I hope one day it all soaks in. Today I’m working my way through J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Thanks for the visit!

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  3. One very long paragraph with just one sentence?

    Various educators teach rules governing the length of paragraphs. They may say that a paragraph should be 100 to 200 words long, or be no more than five or six sentences. But a good paragraph should not be measured in characters, words, or sentences. The true measure of your paragraphs should be ideas.

    I like the ideas expressed but to me it needs some breaks.

    But what do I really know? I rarely write posts more than 200 words for God’s sake!

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    1. 😂

      I have to admit I found myself re-reading McCarthy’s passages. At the same time, based on a further look at that one sentence, I have mad respect.

      As for me, I’m trying to simplify my own sentences these days. And—I personally like the 200-word post.

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