The Red Pony by John Steinbeck – Reviewed by Guy Portman
The Red Pony is a novella comprising 4 interconnected stories about a boy called Jody Tiflin, who lives on a ranch in rural California. In the first story Jody receives a red pony as a gift from his father Carl, on the condition that he toils on the farm to reimburse him the cost. The second sees an elderly Paisano, nearing death, return to the farm, the place of his birth. In The Promise tragic circumstances culminate in Jody owning a colt. Jody’s nostalgic grandfather, a constant cause of vexation for Carl, comes to visit in The Leader of the People. The small cast of characters include Jody’s strict mother and a farmhand named Billy Buck, who acts as something of a buffer between irksome Carl and his son.
The motif of these stories is life and death. Another common theme is growing up. Maturing protagonist Jody is a boy capable of sadistic cruelty towards animals, but also patience, perseverance and empathy.
The Red Pony is a compact, atmospheric and melancholic book that offers insights into the region’s history. Whilst the vivid scenes entailing tragedy and brutality will not endear this novella to all, this reader, an avid Steinbeck fan, found it to be enduring and engrossing.