Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

In this third installment of The Border Trilogy, McCarthy brings together John Grady Cole from Book I and Billy Parham from Book II as they work together on a ranch.  Though neither delves too deeply into the tragedies in Mexico they both suffered, their unspoken experiences seem to bind them in ways they can’t understand.

A fitting conclusion to The Border Trilogy, McCarthy gives us the final fates of the two heroes we grew to love in previous volumes, and he does so in true McCarthy style.  While the plot is fairly simple, the book is anything but.  McCarthy once again offers dazzling asides that build characterization and encourages the reader to take ownership in Cole and Parham’s lives.  The task of the savvy novelists is not only to tell a good story, but to draw the reader into the day-to-day existence of his characters so thoroughly that the reader forgets it’s fiction in which they’re vicariously taking part.  McCarthy does just that with Cities of the Plain.

His deceptively complex tale is one that is concise yet expansive, beautiful yet mundane, noble yet tragic.  Like life, it is all these things and more.

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

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.

It isn’t.

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.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

The first volume of what’s known as The Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses encompasses what I love about McCarthy’s writing.

 

Set in the late Forties, All the Pretty Horses follows teenage Texan John Grady Cole seeking a better life for himself in Mexico.  He travels by horse with his slightly older friend, Rawlins, and on the way down they join up with a very young teenager named Blevins.  They can tell Blevins is trouble, and he causes them more problems than they ever could have imagined.  But John also finds some danger without the help of Blevins, and it involves the daughter of his new ranch boss that he just can’t quit.

 

McCarthy offers a bit more descriptive narration than I care for in this work, slowing it down at times, but his tight-lipped, capable, honorable, humble, and just plain tough John Grady Cole represents what I enjoy most about McCarthy’s creations.  John Grady Cole is the perfect McCarthy protagonist, and this neo-western perfectly conveys all that it means to be human—love, loss, betrayal, redemption, loyalty, and resolve.

 

It is with great anticipation I look forward to completing The Border Trilogy.