The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.
From The Short Novels of John Steinbeck
Viking Press: NY, 1953, now a Penguin Classic.
1st 2 chapters publ by The North American Review (Boston) in 1933.
4th chapter publ by Argosy (London) in 1936.
3rd chapter Publ by Harpers Magazine (NY) in 1937.
Nobel award author

The short novel The Red Pony is 4 stories related to a young boy on a ranch in California. In the first, Jody cares for and trains a pony that dies before he is allowed to ride it. The second is about Gitano, who was born on the land related to the ranch and has come back to his birthplace to finish his life. It is also about the mystique of the nearby mountains. In the third, Jody cares for a female horse preparing to foal. There is a problem with the birth. The mother is put down, and the colt is surgically removed. The fourth is about Jody's grandfather who comes for a visit. His grandfather has one major accomplishment, leading a wagon train, and the story is about his grandfather's tales and dejection from feeling his life is over.

All of Steinbeck's stories are a bit tragic. They have a heavily descriptive, yet easy to read style. The Red Pony is one that middle graders are encouraged to read, and yet I think it works better for mature teens and adults, because the subject matter tends to be difficult for younger readers, too tragic. Part of the book was assigned to me in 7th grade. I remember shying away from it, thinking it was too descriptive and upsetting, and not much else. It is a good story. I don't tend to like too much description (ex. can't stand Dickens), but Steinbeck's style is different. He had a way with description that others couldn't seem to match. His works have depressing parts, but there is also a complexity that draws the reader away from dwelling on them. One thing to keep in mind is that Steinbeck wrote right in the middle of the Depression of the 1930s. I didn't really think about that before, though The Grapes of Wrath certainly takes place during that period. Steinbeck, probably more than any other author, represents that time period. And the time we live in has close parallels to that time.

I read the book, because 2 characters from The Red Pony, the pony Gabilan and Gitano, show up in Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee. I was intrigued by the mystery set up in Buzbee's story and determined to read more of Steinbeck. After reading The Pastures of Heaven, where the mystery of Steinbeck's Ghost takes place, I wanted to read even more. I do plan to read still more, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and a reread of The Grapes of Wrath.

related-boys and horses, ranch life, tragedy, the West, California, families

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