Review: The Red Pony

The Red Pony The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know that I'm a hardcore Steinbeck fan but I generally do like his work. Of Mice And Men is a favorite and though I've never read it in full, The Grapes of Wrath also has a lot of weight attached to it and I've read several of his short stories. So when I picked up The Red Pony, I had some sense of what to anticipate. The short novel explores the life of Jody, a young boy living on a farm with his family in 1930s (or so) California. He's a mild-mannered boy with a general curiosity about the world around and yet still widely naive about the ways of the world. The book is set up in four chapters that are essentially four episodes over roughly a two-year period. On the farm, Jody has only his mother, two dogs (who continually abandon him for other activities), his often-time distant father, and the farm help, Billy Buck, who Jody looks up to the most. The story begins with Jody being given a (you guessed it) red pony to care for and raise. However, what starts off as a typical tale of youth-gaining-responsibility largely turns to a youth having to reconcile the harsher lessons of the world, even when those surrounding him have the best intentions. Through each of the four episodes, we witness Jody learning, not just about the way of the world but the ways of the people around him. Steinbeck traces the transition of our heroes from gods to mere mortals and with his simple yet sophisticated style does not so much linger but does just that--gives us the outlines of these experiences and a very light sense of their implications. In doing so, the book seems less a tale for youth and more for adults to consider their own possibly painful loss of heroes.

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