“No matter how good a man is, there's always some horse can pitch him.”
For my #15in31 challenge, I decided to start small, with a slim volume by John Steinbeck called The Red Pony. It has been a long time since I've read any Steinbeck, but I went through a phase a couple years ago where I bought a bunch of his titles in hopes of reading his complete works (a goal I still want to accomplish, perhaps when I finish with Cather). In any case, this is a slim little volume about the same size as Of Mice and Men, so I thought it would make a great starting point for my challenge (see this post if you're lost).
Truthfully, I didn't know much about The Red Pony before reading it, which was probably a good thing. When I started, I thought it reminded me of Black Beauty, but that vibe slowly disappeared as I flew through the novella.
I actually don't see The Red Pony as a complete novel/novella. It reads more as 4 related parts loosely connected with similar character names. There is no real connective plotline, just characters who are reintroduced in each of the 4 chapters.
But there is a connective theme. This is definitely a coming of age story, as young Jody Tiflin learns about life on the ranch and the cycle of life and death. He also learns that adults he once thought were infallible aren't, and that you can be disappointed by life.
The characters are all well-defined from the beginning. Jody stars in all of the chapters, as a young boy who is facing the harsh reality of life on a ranch and growing up. His mother is a strong and constant presence in all 4 chapters, as she tries to protect Jody from some harsh realities, while also allowing him the opportunities to grow up when things don't go as planned. Jody's father, Carl, is a tough man with no outward love for his son. He's bogged down by the responsibilities of running a ranch and having a little boy running around. But he does his best to provide and give opportunities to Jody.
Billy Buck was my favorite character, and perhaps the most complex. As the hired hand on the ranch, Billy Buck is also the man with all the old-school knowledge-about horses, life, the weather, etc. Jody idolizes him and respects his opinions as fact, until Billy Buck fails. And while Steinbeck doesn't dwell on the harshness of the realization for Jody or Billy, it lingers in the remaining pages, reminding us that we all had moments where we realized the adults around us can't always fix everything.
It was a short, quick read, but definitely as complex as Steinbeck's other works. It left me thinking and eager to read more Steinbeck...perhaps this month for my challenge. I know I have Cannery Row sitting on my bookshelf, so you might see more Steinbeck coming up soon.
What did you think of The Red Pony? Any other Steinbeck you would recommend? I haven't read a great deal by him, but I'm eager to read more (I think I've only read Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, The Winter of our Discontent, and The Pearl in addition to this title).