At the risk of oversimplification, John Steinbeck might be considered a conciser Hemingway. This doesn’t detract from Steinbeck in any manner whatsoever, to be perfectly clear, but just helps me slot him more easily into the gigantic tree of authors in my head. The Red Pony is about Jody, a boy who lives on a farm in California under a brusque mother and a stern father. He is given the gift of a red pony one year, only to have it die from ill luck quite soon. Things improve somewhat when he is given a second chance with a foaling. Bad luck dogs this attempt as well, with a life traded for a life at the critical juncture, when dreams are made and shattered all at once.
We see the moral here: life is hard, sometimes you get what you want only to have the Fates snatch it away again almost immediately. Then, you’re blessed enough to get a second chance, as most people are, but a terrible trade has to be made. The person most affected by the trade is never you, but someone you care about and they have to be very strong to bear the brunt of the trade. Steinbeck’s prose is short and spat out like the bullets from a Lee Enfield. He makes us feel the tired memories of a man who has done the best thing in his life and must talk about it for the rest of his day. We feel the anger of a man who cannot take it out on its legitimate target and so seeks a weaker target for his ire instead. These and all the other foibles that together constitute the human condition are all mentioned and thankfully not expounded upon too much in Steinbeck’s terse prose.