"All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy (1992)
"They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them upinto the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing"
"All the Pretty Horses" is the first book in McCarthy's Border Trilogy, a trio which also includes "The Crossing" and "Cities of the Plain." I have read all three books in this series, though I have read the first book last. I must say that I'm a bit sorry about this, because I think "Cities of the Plain" would have been even more devastating if I had read the books of the trilogy in their proper order.
In "All the Pretty Horses" John Grady Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins set out for Mexico on horseback. What follows is a series of adventures that prompt both of these characters to question the very essence of their respective realities. There is death along the way, and also love, and a fair amount of philosophizing from various perspectives.
It is an excellent book. I liked it more than "The Crossing," which was a bit too existential for me, but not as much as the earth-shattering "Cities of the Plain," which is one of the best books I've ever read. My only complaint about "All the Pretty Horses" is the monologue delivered by the aunt near the end. This monologue seems little more than a vehicle with which McCarthy tries to get more philosophical musings across, and it takes the reader too far outside the narrative.
The section detailing their stay in a Mexican prison, however, is amazing. I cannot think of any other part of any other book that communicates such desperation, and it really is a stunning achievement. It also anticipates an important development in "Cities of the Plain," and it would add a lot of gravity to that development if you read the trilogy in order.
Anyone who thinks they don't like Westerns needs to read this. It does what any truly great book does, it transcends the setting of the story, it transcends the limitations of the characters, and it shows us the Very Large that inevitably comes to exist inside the Very Small.