MMGM (4/3/2017) Classic Critique: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
Update (4/2/2022): I typically participate in blogging groups that review kids’ books, but sometimes, I do end up reading adult books like this one. In the past, I have typically labeled those books as MG or YA when I review them, primarily because I still want my typically blogging audiences to see them! However, this has become confusing, so I have decided to re-label these books as adult books, while leaving the reviews in their original format. Thank you for your consideration!
- Enjoyable style and voice. The Red Pony, originally written in 1945, revolves around a boy named Jody growing up on a ranch in what seems to be the 1920s. Steinbeck's narration of the four short stories comprising the book is enjoyable to read, featuring heavy use of figurative language and a distinct style and voice (the author's voice, not the main character's) that is omniscient, switching between several characters thoughts and feelings.
- Interesting characters. Steinbeck crafts an interesting cast for the book. Jody is a somewhat strange boy (often noticing what shoes his father is wearing based on their sound, for instance) who rarely talks, while his father is often mean and distant, trying to seem tough, but often internally realizing his mistakes, only to immediately make them again out of shame.
- Reasonable length. Unlike so many other books of its time, The Red Pony has 100 pages of material formed into a book that is exactly 100 pages. After reading so many 600-page classics, a shorter one is refreshing.
- Everything is gruesome. There are 5 parts of the book (all of which involve animals) that are described in a way that could traumatize anyone (e.g. cutting open a horse's windpipe, beating a buzzard to death with a rock). This is far too many, and Steinbeck's skill at description is actually problematic here, making it challenging to get through many parts of The Red Pony.
- Everything is depressing. So much of this book is sad, from the fate of the titular character to the feelings of many characters (such as Jody's grandfather, who always tells the same stories from the past over and over, much to the dismay of Jody's father). Since the book is so short, there are very few happy or hopeful moments, making the book drag on, despite its short length.
- Everything is misspelled. When character's names are misspelled as "Judy" and "Billly," it is slightly concerning (especially on a copy printed 50 years later—why hasn't it been spellchecked?)