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The Crossing (The Border Trilogy, Book 2) Paperback – March 14, 1995
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The opening section of The Crossing, book two of the Border Trilogy, features perhaps the most perfectly realized storytelling of Cormac McCarthy's celebrated career. Like All the Pretty Horses, this volume opens with a teenager's decision to slip away from his family's ranch into Mexico. In this case, the boy is Billy Parham, and the catalyst for his trip is a wolf he and his father have trapped, but that Billy finds himself unwilling to shoot. His plan is to set the animal loose down south instead.
This is a McCarthy novel, not Old Yeller, and so Billy's trek inevitably becomes more ominous than sweet. It boasts some chilling meditations on the simple ferocity McCarthy sees as necessary for all creatures who aim to continue living. But Billy is McCarthy's most loving--and therefore damageable--character, and his story has its own haunted melancholy.
Billy eventually returns to his ranch. Then, finding himself and his world changed, he returns to Mexico with his younger brother, and the book begins meandering. Though full of hypnotically barren landscapes and McCarthy's trademark western-gothic imagery (like the soldier who sucks eyes from sockets), these latter stages become tedious at times, thanks partly to the female characters, who exist solely as ghosts to haunt the men.
But that opening is glorious, and the whole book finally transcends its shortcomings to achieve a grim and poignant grandeur. --Glen Hirshberg
From Publishers Weekly
This second volume of McCarthy's Border Trilogy-an 11-week PW bestseller-follows two teenage boys across the American Southwest and Mexico in the years before WWII.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The Crossing is a good enough story. McCarthy's prose is powerful and carries the book where his actual story lags. The main character Billy Parham sets off to Mexico and ... (see other reviews for story details). Point is: McCarthy has poor Billy wandering all over the countryside, meeting mostly monosyllabic characters but occasionally meeting someone who has the mind of a Kierkegaard or Thoreau. Seriously. McCarthy has to do this because of his "God" pov. He never gets into any single character's head -- not really. I think I saw one "he thought" in the final 100 pages of the book. So, be aware of what you're getting into. The scenery/setting *is* a character. That's just McCarthy.
So: I admire McCarthy's prose style, very much, but at the same time I can say that the characters in this book read to me as either very flat or outrageously unreal. It's that "God" pov again. Because McCarthy the writer has so much to say, he must find a way to say it, either as "God" or through a character. He's best handling "God" through his own voice, because when he gives that voice to a character it becomes wildly unreal. There are, literally, pages and pages of text spoken by characters that could read from a philosophy textbook. Or Mann's Magic Mountain. If you want to go there, great! (As an aside, in Blood Meridian this works magically because those lines/philosophy are given to the judge, one of the greatest characters in all American literature.) Here, it doesn't always work, for me. By the end of The Crossing I felt that Billy Parham is a pretty dumb young man, indeed, almost deserving all he's gotten.
I recommend this book for any fan of McCarthy. And if you've not read any McCarthy at all, I'd recommend as a first read something else of his, like Child of God or No Country for Old Men, or even All the Pretty Horses. Savor his finest novel -- what I believe is one of the finest works of literature ever written: Blood Meridian.
PS: When reading The Crossing you'll want to have a computer nearby to look up both English and Spanish terms. Unless you read Spanish, you'll also want to have A Translation of Spanish Passages in The Crossing. Just search "mccarthy the crossing spanish words" and you'll find a pdf file for (most of but not all) the book's Spanish language text.
I liked it
It is the late `30's, what would be the waning days of the Great Depression, and Billy Parham, 16, and his brother Boyd, 14, are growing up on a "hard-scrabble" ranch in Hidalgo County, NM, in the area normally referred to as "the boot heel" of New Mexico. It is an area still so remote that probably less than one New Mexican in a 1,000 has visited it; I've been there only once, driving to Columbus, yet still missing the portion McCarthy so lyrically describes: the Animas Mountains and valley. This book encouraged me to make amends for this oversight.
The two boys meet a hungry Indian, and obtain food for him, an event which foreshadows developments in an unlikely way. Over the past decade there have been efforts to re-introduce wolfs into the wild of NM (with considerable opposition), so it was ironic to read of the time that they had been hunted to extinction in NM, since they are no friend to the cattle ranchers. Nonetheless, in McCarthy's account, there is a wolf that has come up from the mountains of Mexico, and is killing cattle. The two boys, and their dad set out to trap it, and McCarthy demonstrates considerable narrative skills depicting the process whereby even a "clever" wolf is trapped. The author never veers to a "New Age" outlook on the interactions between man and wild animals, but he does describe the action with considerable empathy for the wolf, as well as the understandable reaction of Billy when the wolf is trapped: he will not kill the wolf, rather he will take it back to the mountains of Mexico, and release it. There was no border fence in the `30's, so Billy simply takes his horse, and now "his" wolf across. For anyone, but particularly for a 16 year old American boy, it is an adventure, requiring an essential ability to "think on your feet" in a new environment. McCarthy "style" involves long descriptive passages on the landscape, with numerous technical terms, particularly those involving the skills of horse-handling. And his narrative also involves interspersing passages of Spanish in the dialogue, a language Billy speaks, thanks to his maternal grandmother. Other reviewers who only speak English have complained of this. Although passages in French are more common in narratives of English, and I can read French, the Spanish was a bit more of a challenge, and did require a Spanish dictionary in the lap while reading: hopefully I'm a bit wiser for the process.
Billy Parham's initial purpose, taking the wolf back to Mexico ends on page 125. There are more than 300 pages to go. Billy is joined by his brother Boyd, in both purposeful, and then seemingly random wanders in northern Mexico. The "kindness of strangers" is very much in evidence, as they both are often penniless. And the occasional terrifying violence that mars the peace of both countries is also in evidence. Through flashbacks, the revolution(s) in Mexico, which manage to kill off so much of the "best and brightest" usually of the male population, is also depicted. Billy stumbles into a church and finds an old woman praying. McCarthy brilliantly captures one slice of Mexican history and society with the following:
"He knew her well enough, this old woman of Mexico, her sons long dead in that blood and violence which her prayers and her prostrations seemed powerless to appease. Her frail form was a constant in that land, her silent anguishing. Beyond the church walls the night harbored a millennial dread panoplied in feathers and the scales of royal fish and if it yet fed upon the children still who could say what worse wastes of war and torment and despair the old woman's constancy might not have stayed, what direr histories yet against which could be counted at least nothing more than her small figure bent and mumbling, her crone's hands clutching her beads of fruitseed. Unmoving, austere, implacable. Before just such a God."
The Crossing? Billy crosses the American-Mexican border at least five times, yet the title is in the singular. I suspect it refers to that much tougher crossing he made, from adolescence into manhood. I welcome comments. 5-stars for an essential American novel.
The Book was the second the McCarthy's Border Trilogy, the first All the Pretty Horses, was a much better book. Both books are about teenage Boys who go to a brutal, post revolutionary Mexico pursue their fates. The Parham brother's, reminded a little of Young Jimmy Blevins in All the Pretty Horses they tried to recover what was taken from them and it lead to a tragic end.
The heart that beats in The Crossing is our own heart, and it is unfolded here with a clarity, depth, and authenticity that belies the apparent simplicity of the telling, and the inevitability of that heart's undoing.
Quixotic, tragic, communal, ancient, and vatic. In my opinion the most forceful, lyrical, and possessing the most ingenious construction of the Border Trilogy volumes.
Don't allow labels like "western", "horse romance", or even "picaresque" throw you off the scent - McCarthy defies genre. More accurately, he plays with it, parodies it, and sets it on its head and gives it a spin. "Things separate from their stories have no meaning," the older boy learns along the way from an unhinged old priest. Indeed. Here there be wolves.