Book Review: The Red Pony
Publisher: Covici Friede, 1937
Genre: Classic Fiction
My Rating: A
Four different stories, centered around a young boy named Jody, make up this book. The stories are set on a ranch in Salinas Valley, California during the early twentieth-century. Jody is an only child and the ranch is isolated, so it’s possible to see this book as a sad downer. But – Jody is a good old-fashioned boy and his personality shines through the ups and downs of life on the ranch.
- The first story, The Gift, is about a little a red pony and a red leather saddle that is a rare gift from Jody’s father. Jody’s status among his friends at school increases and he learns the hard lessons of caring for a special animal. Jody’s eyes are also opened to the harshness of life.
- In the second story, The Great Mountains, Jody meets an old man who was born on the ranch long before it was owned by Jody’s father. The man has now come “home” to die. Jody’s father forbids him to stay for more than one night. The old man points out that Mr. Tiflin treats his old horse better than a person.
- The third story, The Promise, is about another horse. This time Jody is the one who takes their mare to another ranch to be bred with their stallion. Then Jody must wait nearly a year for the birth of what will be his horse. Again in this story, Jody must face the harsh realities of life and death.
- The fourth story, The Leader of the People, feature the stories of Jody’s maternal grandfather. The man is not welcomed by Jody’s father as he says the grandfather just keeps telling the same old stories over and over again. The stories are about how the grandfather led a group of people across the plains. Jody loves them as they spark his imagination.
The Red Pony was the book selection this month for one of my book clubs. All but one of us loved the book. Our lone dissenter thought the book was too sad and depressing. I thought it was more bittersweet. The writing is so amazing that it was a joy to read.
Steinbeck’s descriptions of people and places captivated me and I found myself highlighting phrase after phrase. Here are a few I liked. The first is a description of Billy, the farmhand:
He was a bandy-legged little man with a walrus mustache, with square hands, puffed and muscled on the palms. His eyes were a contemplative, watery gray and the hair which protruded from under his Stetson hat was spiky and weathered.
And this one describes Jody:
He was only a little boy, ten years old, with hair like dusty yellow grass and with shy polite gray eyes, and with a mouth thar worked when he thought.
And here Steinbeck describes Jody’s behavior after he receives his very own pony:
It became his habit to creep out of bed even before his mother was awake, to slip into his clothes and to go quietly down to the barn to see Gabilan. In the gray quiet morning when the land and the brush and the houses and the trees were silver gray and black like a photograph negative, he stole toward the barn, past the sleeping stones and the sleeping cypress trees.
I read this book slowly over a three week period. It’s hard to express in words how much pleasure this little book gave me. I think it may have been how the author made me see life through the eyes of a child – very plain, quite curious, and with loads of imagination.
The Red Pony was a good book club selection. Our leader dug out numerous facts about Steinbeck that really enhanced our understading and appreciation of the book. Since nearly everyone in the club is around my age, we also spent some time talking about the attitudes of “old-people” today as compared to the second story in this book. A very interesting discussion.
There were some passages, like those above, that I read, re-read and then read aloud to my husband or anyone else hanging about. John Steinbeck was truly a gifted writer. If you aren’t familiar with his work, I’d suggest starting with one of the four stories in The Red Pony. Each story stands alone, although they all feature the little boy Jody and life in the Salinas Valley.
This book count as one of the 50+ I’m reading for the Classics Club.