Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Red Pony

The Red Pony
John Steinbeck

This was a book I had no knowledge of before I dived in. I bought it purely on the strength of Steinbeck’s name and the very attractive cover design. I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a very short book that tells the story of a young boy, Jody, growing up on a ranch in the 30’s. There are only four chapters, the first three of which had been previously published in various magazines as individual short stories.

It’s an incredibly short book (my edition coming in at less than a hundred pages) but feels a lot longer as you read. Each chapter feels incredibly slowly paced, the textual equivalent of the long days working on the farm, trying to find things to entertain you to get you through the day. It’s a pace I greatly enjoyed, I may have said it before but I’m a fan of books where not a lot happens, the pages filled with a kind of negative space and while this book isn’t quite like that it was very similar. Each chapter centres around one distinct event, Jody getting the red pony, a stranger appearing on the ranch, Jody awaiting the birth of a colt and Jody’s grandfather arriving for a visit. Aside from these events not a lot happens in each chapter, there is a lot of waiting, meditating on the event to come.

It’s a very sad book, in particular the chapters surrounding Gitano, the old man that arrives out of the blue, claiming he used to live on the ranch, and the visit of Jody’s grandfather. Both of these chapters have incredibly sad endings which I found incredibly powerful. Likewise, the other two chapters are sad also though personally,  I found them less effective.
The book exists to teach Jody of the harsh realities of life in 30’s America, one of the hardest times in the countries history, as he reaches the end of his childhood he is forced to contend with the realities of hard labour and death.

It takes a great writer to be able to cram such a concise and moving tale into so small a narrative but Steinbeck seems to do it with no difficulty whatsoever, emotion flows effortlessly into this book and it’s an absolutely wonderful piece of work.

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