52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2006
I usually read every night to my wife. We've gone through dozens of books together in our marriage, and several months ago, I read "All the Pretty Horses" to her. She loved it, and would not let me read her anything else until we had read McCarthy's entire trilogy. We just finished it.
This book, the third in that trilogy, has its shortcomings, but it is still one amazing piece of work.
In this book, John Grady Cole--the genius horsetrainer of "All the Pretty Horses"--and Billy Parham--the kindhearted nomad of "The Crossing"--come together as ranch hands on a New Mexico estancia. Both are older than they were in the previous books--Billy much older--but both are kindred spirits whose stories connect with and affect each another.
The book tends more heavily toward the lengthy philosophical monologues that appear only occasionally in the trilogy's earlier volumes, and the whole story at momemnts goes a little bit long if you've just read the two previous volumes right before.
However, the writing is gorgeous, and haunting. For example, in one passage, a dead calf's "ribcage lay with curved tines upturned on the gravel plain like some carnivorous plant brooding in the barren dawn." Yeah.
And the ending--the ending is amazing. It might not be quite what you expect or ask for, but it is thrilling in its perfectness, in its completess, in how true it feels.
It left me holding the book like a priceless religious relic, re-reading its back cover, flipping back through it to parts I had marked, reluctant and unwilling to let go of these characters or their world.
Cormac McCarthy is a literary genius. He has made the West tangible, taken its most ineffable qualities and turned them into words. He makes me homesick for the place I already live.
Do not start with this book, if you've never read his other works, but do work up to it. Do read it.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This final novel in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy of the southwest brings together the themes McCarthy has developed throughout the trilogy. In the first novel, All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy stresses the romanticism of John Grady Cole, who runs away to become a cowboy, suffers a heart-breaking loss at love, and returns, sadder and perhaps wiser, to find solace in the solitude of his work on the plains.
Times are changing as the 20th century progresses, and the independent life of ranchers is threatened. In The Crossing, a far darker novel, Billy Parham, another young man, takes off with his brother, crossing the border into Mexico, to explore its older traditions and ways of life. Cities of the Plain, with Biblical suggestions in the title, brings young John Grady Cole and the older Billy Parham together, as they work on the McGovern ranch in Texas in the 1950s. The wilderness is disappearing, cities are encroaching, and an army base may take their land.
Focusing less on the harshness of ranch life than in past novels, McCarthy here concentrates more on character, in this case, that of John Grady Cole, who falls in love with a prostitute from Juarez and wants to bring her across the border to his way of life. Billy Parham counsels him against marrying her, but John Grady is determined to wrest her away from Eduardo, her manager, and give her the peace that she has never known. Life is harsh, however, and outcomes are bleak for dreamers and altruists. John Grady soon finds himself engaged in a struggle with Eduardo which is vicious and unrelenting, a metaphorical struggle between honor and evil, and between civilized values and the "justice" of tooth and claw, hope and desperation, and acceptance of change and adherence to the past.
McCarthy's gorgeous descriptions of this vanishing way of life on the ranch are as effective here as they are in the other novels in the trilogy, though they seem to be presented nostalgically. Times are changing, and the "old man," the ranch owner, is now becoming senile. Civilization is drawing closer, and John Grady, the cowboy, uses taxis instead of horses when he is in a hurry to travel. As McCarthy draws the reader into John Grady's story, the reader knows that the struggle between him and Eduardo is a mythic struggle, and s/he also knows what the likely outcome will be. The elegance with which the ending is drawn, however, gives both potency and poignancy to McCarthy's message. Mary Whipple
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2000
It took a while to get around to this one. My experience with this writer has always been that you don't pick up one of his books purely for entertainment. In fact, the complexity of the telling and the tale in parts one and two of this trilogy approach Faulkner.
I found CITIES, in terms of plot and style, to be less complex, more reader-friendly. However, even writing in this more traditional sense, McCarthy maintains the edge that sets him apart from most of his American contemporaries. The simplicity and poetry of the phrasing is still there, the marvelous descriptions, the dead perfect dialogue, still crisp and efficient.
And even though you know what's going to happen if you've read the earlier works, you can't help but be tantalized and magnetized and pulled along. The suspense and style that Larry Brown emulates in his southern underbelly novels is raised a couple levels by the hand of this master writer.
In creating this more readable conclusion to the Border Trilogy, McCarthy may have blown his chance at the Nobel (rumors of his shortlisting abound among the writers I've spoken to). But with CITIES, he allows us to go along for the ride with little more than a dusting off of that rusty Spanish.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2000
When I found out the two heroes of the first two books, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, were united in this one, I went out of my mind to read it. Unfortunately this book is neither as exciting as "All the Pretty Horses" or as philosophically rich as "The Crossing." McCarthy's concentrating on the girl prostitute reveals his weakness in understanding a woman's viewpoint. "Cities of the Plain" works best in tandem with the first two books. Taking the trilogy as a whole, the necessity of this girl becomes clear, though that's up to the reader to pick up. The epilogue, which is really the epilogue for the whole trilogy, indicates the meaning of John Grady, of the women he loved -- and more importantly, the meaning of Billy. Get "Cities of the Plain" as the key to "All the Pretty Horses" and "The Crossing"; read the other two first.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2003
First: I read the Border Trilogy this week. I haven't read any other McCarthy literature. I was told that if I liked Larry McMurtry, Steinbeck, and Salinger then I would love McCarthy. The first thing I bought was The Crossing. Upon realizing it was part of a trilogy with All The Pretty Horses as the first installment, I was very disappointed. I had no intrest in a Hollywood western novel. But, I grudgingly purchased All The Pretty Horses and read it. (Have not watched movie). That said...
Cormac McCarthy far surpasses any living writer with which I have come in contact. If I had the masterful ability with language that he does, I could express that in a much more emphatic manner.
Any reviewer who complains about things such as puncuation, grammer, or spanish-I feel compelled to respond with this:
1. Would you prefer that all painters created exact duplicates of their subject matter? Are we not better, as a society and as a species, for taking our interpretations further and showing those things we are already intimate with in a fresh or different way? Would you say 'cubism', for instance, is too complicated for you?
2. Are you 25 years old or less? Do you have any true ability to surive in a harsh world without parental aide? The struggles depicted in this novel would, of course, be difficult to fathom in that scenario, especially when teamed with non-traditional grammar and punctuation and a lack of a personal translator.
3. If neither of the two applies to a negative reviewer, perhaps your solution would be ritalin. It is supposed to assist in 'focus'.
On to the review:
All the Pretty Horses is the 'prettiest' of the three. The least bleak, possesses the least darkness. John Grady Cole, loses what he allows himself to lose. He is afforded by McCarthy some level of self determination. He rarely states a prediction that does not become so. He never throws a rope without catching what he intends. Even in the darkest scenes, if John Grady fights for something, he seems to get it.
The Crossing's main character was just the opposite. Billy Parnham will never get anything he for which he fights. He will always align himself most closely with a losing cause. It seems that he is completely asexual, and the closest bonds he forms almost always precede the demise of said character/animal.
There is something striking in the fact that the moral stance, character, sense of justice are nearly identical for John and Billy. Yet John wins, and Billy loses. Repeatedly. Yet it is Billy who survives all contests, all tragedies, all of his closest bonds. Billy's 'heart' is never joined with any group or idea or convention larger than land and animals. At some points his 'heart' is rejected; but is his survival possibly attributed to his lack of truly 'giving' his 'heart' to any passionate cause? The passion Billy gives us in the final scene of The Crossing, the self-realization and anger and utter despairing are so exceedingly rare that your tears are nearly required after finishing this book.
As you might be able to tell, it would take far more than the 1000 word limit to fully explore the metaphors, symbolism, or intentions of McCarthy's characters.
The Cities on the Plain brings the two that abadonded their families in favor of the dust of the road together in this final installment. While personally jostled by Billy's transition from complete and total sorrow (in the conclusion of The Crossing) to the casual, easy going buddy (in the opening of The Cities), that is the only fault worth mentioning.
The theme may or may not be this: We don't know anything and neither does anyone else. The nuggets of wisdom that our heroes encounter from the journeying, extrapolating, strangers they meet are proof of this, and, an indication that these books could be re-read hundreds of times.
The Crossing, in my view, is the strongest of the three, with The Cities of the Plain second and All the Pretty Horses, obviously, third. The Cities of the Plain would be wasted as read without the other two.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 1998
The last installment on the Border Trilogy proves to be well worth the wait. Although not McCarthy's best effort, any effort by McCarthy shines out like a lighthouse beacon over the dark waters of the standard fare of modern fiction (one shrinks from using the word literature for 99.9% of published fiction). McCarthy intertwines and concludes the tales of John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses and Billy Parham from The Crossing. A 20-year-old John Grady and a 28-year-old Billy Parham are working together on a ranch in New Mexico near El Paso in the early 1950s. In this tale, Billy becomes the everyman, doomed to walk the lands in search of the ever receding revelation which will give meaning to his life and healing to his pain, while Cole becomes the symbol for honor and redemption through deeds in a fallen (and still falling) world. All of the key elements of McCarthy's body of work are here - the quest, the violent nature of our race, the recurring nature of societies in an ancient land, our search for meaning in the seemingly arbitrary events of our lives, the pathos of our struggle against overwhelming fates. The epilogue is fifty years after the heroic Cole has done battle with the beast in his lair (there is something of the Norse myth about McCarthy - warriors in a recurring cycle of violence, Ragnarok when the gods and the forces of darkness annihilate each other at the end of all days) and has killed and been killed. (The best that can be hoped for in McCarthy's world is a hard fought draw in the unending battle with shadow forces.) A 78-year-old Billy, wandering his world aimlessly, homeless, waiting only for death, encounters a nameless stranger who is a shaman, a dream interpreter. The final scene is the summary statement of the Border Trilogy, and a defining moment in modern American literature. The basic questions of our existence - who are we and why are we here? - are answered in the only manner possible, with beauty and simplicity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2006
About 20 years ago, I bemoaned the lack of heroes in our society. The "anti-heroes", the good-bad guys had taken over and there were only the ones you love to hate in the spotlight. Cormack McCarthy wrote the first volume of his trilogy around the same time and I found some of the heroes I'd been looking for. McCarthy hasn't created his cowboy heroes, he communicated or maybe "channeled" them. It really seems to me that like some of the ancient storytellers, he serves as a medium for the ancient voices. That is not meant to minimize Mr. McCarthy's talent. No-one has been more successful as he in capturing the language and personalities of real cowboys.
"Cowboy" is more than a little ambiguous in our language. Some use the word to describe those who would take advantage of opportunities to scratch advantage from others without regard to conventional ethics or morality but for me and others, it suggests the rugged individualist who follows his own path, his own code, in the pursuit of his goals.
Maybe there's no place for cowboys in our current society and maybe that's too bad
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
McCarthy finishes off the Border Trilogy with this absolute game killer of a book. This final part of the trilogy set in the early fifties in a rapidly changing America. John Grady (protagonist from the first book; All the Pretty Horses) and Billy Parham (protagonist from the second book; The Crossing, are friends working on a ranch just outside of Alamogordo New Mexico. The military is about to buy the land in which the small downtrodden ranch is located and is a signal that the old western ways are fast dying out. From the get go we know that this book is going to be a little different. It opens with us finding John and Billy in a brothel. The comedic interaction between the two facilitated by stunning dialogue had me laughing out loud. Although the rest of the book features the Cormac standard descriptions of tough life in the borderlands, the author lays on story of John finding love in a young, troubled Mexican prostitute who suffers from an unspecified malady. With increasing desperation John tries to come up with a scheme to rescue his love from the high end Mexican brothel she works in in Juarez and bring her back over the border to come and live with him in a small adobe shack he has renovated for them both. His friend Billy, tries to reason with him - citing that the villains that run the brothel as one of many problems John's plan faces - again via some brilliant and funny dialogue but begrudgingly lends a hand. It would impossible to go into more without giving too much away, but just when you think this is going to be the same old same old. McCarthy hits us with a conclusion and epilogue that is quite out of character for his usual. And by god it was juts the thing. An absolute classic story. do read All The Pretty Horses and The Crossing before this'un. But this book is way out there in terms of storytelling. As an author myself I could only look on in awe at the masterstrokes of who I consider to be the greatest living writer.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2006
Incredible. One of the best novels I have ever had the pleasure to read. McCarthy is a master story teller. I have never read a book by him I did not fall in love with.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2003
This is by far the most emotionally engaging and thrilling book out of the border trilogy. The way that Cormac McCarthy can incorporate comedy, love, hate, and suspense all together in this book always left me wanting to read more. The friendship between Billy and John always warmed my heart with their jokes and the way that they will always be there for one another. This book jumps from emotion to emotion and has a unforgettable ending that will forever stay in my heart. The life lessons in this story have changed some of my perspectives on life and have touched me in ways I can not describe. This was an excellent end to the trilogy that no one should go without experiencing.