Volume II of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing is McCarthy’s follow-up to All the Pretty Horses. The United States-Mexican border is the only recurring character from the previous volume, but the settings and themes are quite similar.
However, The Crossing is unlike its predecessor in the fact that while All the Pretty Horses followed a fairly linear story, The Crossing resembles exact life in that one never knows what the next day will bring and sometimes today’s conflict has no resolution tomorrow. Nonetheless, we grow and learn from one day to the next, whether we intend to or not.
The Crossing begins with Billy Parham, a teenager, inexplicably deciding to return a captured pregnant wolf to Mexico and neglecting to inform his parents of the trip. The plight continues for such a lengthy time that I found myself wondering if the entire book would be about the return of the wolf.
In true McCarthy style, the wolf’s tale comes to an abrupt conclusion. However, Billy’s story continues on.
He returns home, only to have a horrifying discovery. He now must return to Mexico with his younger brother on a new odyssey. They have a mission, but that mission soon gets derailed and practically forgotten.
After a great deal of conflict, Billy finds himself alone once more and returns to America. He wanders for several years and then resolves to return to Mexico a third time and find his brother. What he does when he finally locates his brother will both stun and touch you.
McCarthy writes The Crossing in elaborate detail that sometimes can lull your interaction with the book. However, just as things become almost dull, he jars you back to full alert. Because of this, I like to compare this book to real life because follow-through is so rare in our day-to-day affairs. We never know what to expect and predictions are so infrequently accurate we wonder why we bother in the first place. McCarthy understands such nuances of true life but manages to synthesize such reality with enough drama and conflict to keep the reader invested. We follow Billy on an epic journey that plays out over years and we watch him grow from a boy to a man, experiencing hardship that would annihilate most people.
I wouldn’t say The Crossing is one of my favorite reads, but I learned a great deal from the author about pacing and description. I also learned more Spanish from this novel than three years in high school and understand the complexities of horses and camping on the open plain far more than I ever could have imagined, thanks to this book.