Whenever you pick up a Steinbeck you start to fell that you might have read it somewhere before. That is not to say it might be unoriginal but it is a result of the way he is able to describe human emotions so well. The story of a boy fearing his father but wanting his approval is as old as the hills and add to that the idea that an adult can let you down and you have basic emotions that mix to make a compelling story.
The first third of the book deals with setting the scene and Jody is a single child who lives with his mother, father and the farm hand Billy. He lives by a strict code set down by his father who lives, as to do they all, a strict life based on the hours that a farmer has to keep.
One day the father and Billy come home from a trip to the town with a surprise for Jody, a young red pony. The boy dotes on it everyday and keeps it in prime condition. But one day he is going to school and concerned that after a week of rain, when he has left the pony indoors, the animal will get left out in the rain if the weather turns.
Billy assures him that it will not rain and then promises to take him in if it does. He fails on both counts and the pony is soaked and becomes ill.
Despite the best efforts of Billy and Jody, who nurses the horse most nights, the pony becomes worse and finally wanders off and stumbles and dies in a field leaving Billy feeling awful and Jody distraught.
Where will the story go from here – in some sense it is already a powerful short story – but you sense that there is more disappointment and heartbreak to come for the young boy.