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Cities of the Plain: Border Trilogy (3) Paperback – May 25, 1999
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"An American classic to stand with the finest literary achievements of the century."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Grave and majestic.... McCarthy has created an imaginative oeuvre greater and deeper than any single book. Such writers wrestle with the gods themselves." --Washington Post Book World
"Showcases Mr. McCarthy's gifts as an old-fashioned storyteller.... His most readable, emotionally engaging novel yet." --The New York Times
"Soars as few novels have in recent years...a work of which any writer would be proud." --The Philadelphia Inquirer
"If you love classic narrative, quest stories, adventure stories of high order transformed by one of the lapidary masters of contemporary American fiction, now is your hour of triumph."
"Captures a way of life so unspoken and deep that most people never knew it existed--. [McCarthy] can go places in prose as remote as a mountain pass in a high wind."--The Boston Globe
From the Inside Flap
In this magnificent new novel, the National Book Award-winning author of All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing fashions a darkly beautiful elegy for the American frontier.
The setting is New Mexico in 1952, where John Grady Cole and Billy Parham are working as ranch hands. To the North lie the proving grounds of Alamogordo; to the South, the twin cities of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Their life is made up of trail drives and horse auctions and stories told by campfire light. It is a life that is about to change forever, and John Grady and Billy both know it.
The catalyst for that change appears in the form of a beautiful, ill-starred Mexican prostitute. When John Grady falls in love, Billy agrees--against his better judgment--to help him rescue the girl from her suavely brutal pimp. The ensuing events resonate with the violence and inevitability of classic tragedy. Hauntingly beautiful, filled with sorrow, humor and awe, Cities of the Plain is a genuine American epic.
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This is just an example of the writing. Amazing, rich and full of all of life's sounds. If you haven't read Cormac McCarthy yet, don't wait and if you have, then go back and read him again. It does help to use the Google translator from Spanish to English if you need it. Even with that. every word is expertly crafted. None casually placed, all with a purpose. Just the way it should be. A wonderful writer.
The world grows cold
The heathen rage
The story’s told
Turn the page.
This is a great dedication to Cormac McCarthy’s 3rd book in his Border Trilogy and a realism of his choosing to bring it to its culmination. I’ve read a lot of McCarthy’s books and each time he “literally” blows me away.
This novel is hard to capture in a review because there is so much going on and so many interesting characters and events that being too selective diminishes the novel. Since you already know the storyline, I’ll limit my review to my reactions to the novel. I love the way Cormac handles the spoken word in this trilogy. His main protagonists are two cowboys in their early to late twenties and their incessant lingo, sitting horses, and constant spitting evokes an image of this place and era (mid 1900s) that is spot on.
John Grady and Billy Parham return in this final novel to draw together the first two books and round out the life of the two cowboys presently punching cattle for a widower rancher. Since this kind of life in southern New Mexico’s hard scrabble land is harsh, it was good to see that their employer took great pains to keep good care of them, feeding them well, respecting their opinions, especially his favorite--John Grady. John Grady was my favorite as well and I don’t think they make many like him anymore: handy, polite, respectful, resilient, humble but confident, excellent at breaking and/or getting the best out of horses and dogs and people, dependable, hard working, faithful and passionate to a fault.
The story covers many aspects of a life of ranching but focuses on Billy and Grady’s friendship told in the fierce beauty and desolation of countryside that few could capture, as does McCarthy. The story is peopled with interesting characters that are fleshed out so that you feel you know them almost as well as the main characters.
McCarthy can capture the typical speech patterns of unschooled cowpokes as easily as he does the visceral complex conversations that populate the book. “Daybreak to daybreak for a godgiven dollar, said Billy. I love this life. You love this life, son? I love this life don’t you? Cause by god I love it. Just love it.”
John Grady’s demeanor charms most of the other characters including an old blind maestro he meets in a whorehouse/bar. Grady grows so fond of the maestro that he asks him to serve as the padrino for his bride. The maestro’s thoughtful explanation upon being asked but refusing to be the padrino gives insight into McCarthy’s ability to use words like few writers today. “He was not a man given to illusions He knew that those things we most desire to hold in our hearts are often taken from us while that which we would put away seems often by that very wish to become endowed with unsuspected powers of endurance. He knew how frail is the memory of loved ones. How we long to hear their voices once gain, and how those voices and those memories grow faint and faint until what was flesh and blood is no more than echo and shadow. In the end perhaps not even that.
He knew by contrast that our enemies seem always with us. The greater our hatred the more persistent the memory of them so that a truly terrible enemy becomes deathless. So that a man who has done you great injury or injustice makes himself a guest in your house forever. Perhaps only forgiveness can dislodge him.”
Brush up on your Spanish because there is a lot of it in the storyline that isn’t translated. Most can be figured out by the words or the context but this twist, so like McCarthy, added a degree of reality to the book, that while a tad frustrating at times, added to the overall atmosphere.
It was hard to put this novel down. In fact, I reread many parts and they still continue to elicit the same deep wrenching, almost reverent, responses. While the story often brings a chuckle and the action never abates, it is the ending that will bring you to your knees. While it wasn’t what this reader may have wished for the two friends, it would appear this was really the only end to the paths that each had chosen. “Men imagine that the choices before them are theirs to make. But we are free to act only upon what is given. Choice is lost in the maze of generations and each act in that maze is itself an enslavement for it voids every alternative and binds one ever more tightly into the constraints that make a life”