Before 1992, Cormac McCarthy had not sold more than 5,000 copies of any one of his books. By the end of 1993, All the Pretty Horses had sold 180,000 hardcover copies and more than 800,000 copies in paperback. What prompted such a dramatic reversal of fortune?
It is difficult to ascertain what Cormac McCarthy thinks of his most famous work since he refuses to discuss it (in addition to all his other novels). And indeed, on first glance, it is also difficult to understand why All the Pretty Horses ultimately proved to be his breakthrough novel, since it does not stray far from McCarthy's characteristic prose style and themes. And yet, even though All the Pretty Horses might not have a revelatory story as to why it was written or to its context in McCarthy's own body of work, it had the advantage of being published at a fortuitous moment in his career. For many years, he had been steadily gaining credibility as a 'writer's writer', poised for a breakthrough to the mainstream. In 1992, a number of events accelerated this process. First, convinced by his editor, McCarthy temporarily ignored his own aversions to publicity and agreed to an interview with the New York Times. The interview coincided with a sudden splurge of favorable McCarthy reviews in that newspaper - two positive reviews of the novel had been published in the spring and it had been listed in the 'Bear in Mind' section as well as in a column suggesting ideal picks for 'Summer Vacation Reading.' By the time the novel was published, the reading public had already picked up on the buzz. On June 7, 1992, it debuted at #15 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Within a few months, it had cemented its status as the best work of fiction of 1992 by claiming both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Perhaps surprised more than anyone by its success, McCarthy wrote two follow-up novels to All the Pretty Horses - The Crossing and Cities on the Plain. The resulting collection is known as The Border Trilogy.