Quick Review (read on for full review)
A hard, emotional read, full of emotional complexities and the harsh reality of life on a ranch in the 1930s. Compelling, yet stark. 3 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads)
Raised on a ranch in northern California, Jody is well-schooled in the hard work and demands of a rancher’s life. He is used to the way of horses, too; but nothing has prepared him for the special connection he will forge with Gabilan, a hot-tempered pony his father gives him. With Billy Buck, the hired hand, Jody tends and trains his horse, restlessly anticipating the moment he will sit high upon Gabilan’s saddle. But when Gabilan falls ill, Jody discovers there are still lessons he must learn about the ways of nature and, particularly, the ways of man.
I couldn’t decide between the two, so thought I would share both:
“He felt an uncertainty in the air, a feeling of change and of loss and of the gain of new and unfamiliar things.”
(from page 5)
“It was a strange time and a mysterious journey, to Jody – an extension of a dream.”
(from page 15)
Quotes from The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
First up, I didn’t like this story, and I will not read it again, of that I’m certain. It was too sad and when it comes to animals in stories, I don’t like cruelty or abuse being shown to them, or horrible things happening to them whether it is reality or not. And so after reading this book, which I found difficult, I was left feeling sad and emotionally low.
That being said, I must have found the story compelling on some level because I read it in one sitting, though I did have to put the book down a couple of times to take a breather from the content.
The story is full of emotional complexities. Jody is growing up and trying to think and act like a man, but he’s not quite there yet. He has to deal with loss and grief, and finding out that an adult who had never been wrong before in his eyes is fallible. Billy struggles between trying to keep truths from Jody in order to preserve his childhood innocence, yet he knows that Jody is growing up. He will soon see the world for the harsh place it is.
Jody’s parents were interesting. There is softness and kindness there, but especially from the father it is hard to express, because being too gentle, too emotional is a weakness in his eyes. It’s a hard world and he wants his son prepared enough to be able to survive in it, so he comes off as cold and remote. His mother’s tough and loving, and finds the balance between the two. Yet she softens noticeably when she knows her son is struggling.
Steinbeck’s writing is economical and stark. He doesn’t shy away from, or sugar coat the darkness to be found in every day life. Neither is he concerned with giving the reader a happy ending.
From a social history perspective, we are given a good account of life on a ranch in the 1930s. It was first published in 1933 and is set in the Salinas Valley area of California, where Steinbeck himself grew up.
The setting is bleak and powerful; it stirs the imagination and expands the wistful horizons of Jody. What’s beyond the mountain ridge? Why don’t people live up there?
This is Jody’s coming-of-age story, where he is old enough to realise the harsh realities of the world, and they wound and shape him.
A well-written, yet ultimately sad and bleak story. Hence the rating.