Matt's Reviews > The Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain

The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
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Sep 10, 10

Recommended to Matt by: Victoria
Recommended for: All who seek beauty and truth
Read from June 23 to September 10, 2010 — I own a copy

** spoiler alert ** A very special thank you to Josh, for getting me a beautifully bound edition of this trilogy. Happy Birthday to me indeed. It even has one of those nice golden tassle bookmarks? Love it.

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

Just an excellent book. Read like it might be an earlier work of McCarthy's, come to find out it's from 1992 (Blood Meridian is 1986). Victoria made the valid justification that McCarthy's frantic burgeoning prose complements its protagonist, 16 (then 17) year-old John Grady. I wrote Dane Alicandro a letter immediately after weeping while reading a passage of this in the Coca-Cola Northampton Factory's Men's Room. McCarthy really gets in touch with his heart here...I learned something about this luminary that I wouldn't have had I only read Blood Meridian. The Road shows a love that resides in Cormac's heart, but it isn't this love, not the love between Grady and Alejandra. Victoria and I got into an animated discussion outside of her Love Nest (the name of her house in Amherst), and passersby must've assumed we were arguing, and it was great. She probed me for my thoughts on Alejandra's leaving John Grady Cole. She lamented at her choice, why did Alejandra not go with this young cowboy? I played devil's advocate and said she didn't have a choice, that the tradition of her family and her country were bigger than this young couple. I think my point has some evidence too, when looking at the faux confessional between John Grady and the judge (no, not the Judge, just the judge. No overlap, although Blevins could be the Kid maybe? hmm investigate further). John Grady explains all he's done, and the judge keeps accepting him, even though they are things John Grady regrets. They are done, and he made them because he felt he was doing what he must. So too, I think, does Alejandra. The scene with the priest who preaches on the radio is quite poignant I think, although seemingly out of place upon first glance. The wife says that they can even hear the priest on Mars, as the new age of technology is ushered in and the old life that the old-souled-John-Grady cannot let go of appears to be receding. I think the preacher is a sort of perversion of John Grady, whom through whose eyes we've truly glimpsed God (should he exist). God, if god is beauty and truth and solemnity and joy and sorrow, IS Alejandra, IS las yeguas. But God isn't on Mars, he is here. He is in Mexico.

THE CROSSING
Yet again, I wept at work while reading this trilogy. Covered face at a Coca-Cola plant, I shook with rage and woe...emotions I didn't know I had but McCarthy had been building unbeknownst to myself the time entire. McCarthy's confidence that he'll arouse his intended reader response is unmatchable...what is it about placing a single solitary pole in a pit for a mother wolf carrying her pups to retreat to causes the reader (me at least) to lurch in sickened despair for her? I cried again breathlessly relaying this scene to Victoria (and AGAIN to Dad, Barbara, and Caleb over pizza at a Manchester pizza joint), who nodded knowingly and empathetically, tears coming out as I tried to paraphrase the beauty and horror of a wolf and boy knowing no one else in this godforsaken land and relying on each other but simultaneously completely unable to know one another, as we as men cannot fully know wild beasts nor they us. I jotted down at work that "McCarthy's prose is isolating. It needs to be heard, but it is loathe to be relayed and paraphrased". You MUST read this to understand why this book can do this to the reader, so gradual and subtle is McCarthy's layering of emotional attachment simply through his diction and syntax. I think McCarthy, wittingly or unwittingly, describes this best on page 413 when he says "there is writ a message that can never be spoken because time would always slay the messenger before he could even arrive". The ending was absolutely perfect in a book so cyclical, and is blatantly an ode (or at least to me, having read them both in one summer and knowing McCarthy's affinity for Melville) to Moby Dick...except McCarthy lights a votive candle for the Land, rather than the Sea. Second only to "Blood Meridian" for McCarthy's work. I will forever carry Billy Parham y el lobo en mi corazon! And, as a sidenote, what a wonderful way to brush up on my high school Spanish! And to connect with the employees at Coca-Cola, when I don't have a Spanish-English dictionary close at hand. Thanks Javier and Robert Camacho!

CITIES OF THE PLAIN

John Grady meets an older Billy Parham. McCarthy ties it altogether here, but this was my least favorite of the three. Still made me cry. To reference another conversation of Victoria and my, when JGC dies in Billy's arms and Billy stoically just sort of says Goddammit it reflects the journey the reader has made with Billy, where tragedy is no less tragic but we are better prepared for it perhaps. When Billy is forced as a 78 year old man to the side of the highway and McCarthy describes a highway overpass I think we see a glimmer of The Road, the beauty that is no less evaporated in today's environment just because it's less apparent than in the lands of JGC and Billy's youths. Billy refers to both Boyd and JGC simply as "the best" at different points. The ending is lovely, describing Billy's aged hands as a sort of microcosm for the journey of his life, and I've had the same thoughts looking at McCarthy's author picture and those grizzled veiny forearms. Victoria has often asked me if I get sad when I finish a book, and I've replied that no, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I can, after all, go update my GoodReads. When I finished this book, on the last day of summer vacation, I lay with this beautifully bound edition of the most beautiful book(s) I've ever read, and my heart welled. This book solidified my belief in the existence of a soul. I am a different man having read these books, and I don't believe that newly acquired knowledge alone can explain this transition. I'll never look at death, at my loved ones, at the world, the same. Thanks Josh, thank you Mr. McCarthy.
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