Review of 'The Red Pony'

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Jody is a young boy living with his parents and cow-hand Billy Buck on a rank in the US west. Told largely from the perspective of Jody, “The Red Pony” is told in four parts starting in “The Gift” with Jody's surprise present from his father of a red pony who he immediately loves, devoting his time and effort into the animal's comfort. Events take a turn for the worse despite the best efforts of Billy, who the family consider the best horse-man there is, after leaving the animal out in the rain, is unable to save him when he comes down with the “strangles”. In “The Great Mountains” the family is visited by an old Mexican claiming to have been born in a nearby adobe building. “The Promise” sees Jody being given the responsibility of taking a mare to a neighbour for stud then promised the foal. In the final chapter “The Leader of the People” Jody's grandfather pays the family a visit, telling the stories of his past on a wagon train and experiences with the “Indians”.

An easy to read story of the restless Jody, tired of his daily life is looking for something to make his life more interesting and prove himself as a young man. The four chapters are completely separate stories which is obvious with the way they were originally published, as separate stories in magazines, featuring only the main characters and setting as common elements. But it is the characters that really bind these stories together, we can understand the grumpiness of the father as he honestly complains about the grandfather's stories which he has heard time and time again, the “heart on his sleeve” sensitivity of Billy who is proud of what he has become and heart when he fails, and, of course, the youthful Jody who is just trying to figure himself out as he comes of age. The pictures these stories paint of life on a ranch are quite vivid and evocative with language that simply flows through your head as you read them.

At 65 pages this is short story is an easy read that clearly demonstrates the early talents of a great American author. I do have to say I found the prose a bit too verbose at times making it a slight bit a slog despite it's shortness but devoting the time to concentrate on the story and take it all in pays off in spades.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-02-28

Genre: Classic

Publication Date: 1937

Other reviewed books by John Steinbeck: