trishtrash'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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's review
Dec 28, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: western

All the Pretty Horses:

John Grady leaves Texas, knowing that his mother is selling the family ranch. Taking his friend Rawlins, they light out for Mexico, where trouble and passion are as much a part of the landscape as rock, dirt and horseflesh.

I don’t think there is a writer more suited to westerns; McCarthy’s dialogue is sparse and dry, yet shot with amusement and even affection. His descriptions are a panorama of vivid and moving immediacy, his narration is pragmatic and immersive, the action swift, brutal life-or-death, gripping. All the Pretty Horses is a kick of spurs on the flank of the reader, driving us into a wide vista of open possibility and distant catastrophe. It is a tale that is beautiful, breathtaking and desolate, and I did not pause before turning to The Crossing, next in the trilogy, because I am not merely immersed in, but in love with, McCarthy’s border states / Mexican tales.

The Crossing

The remarkable beginning to this story thrust me into the life of Billy Parham, following him to Mexico as compelled as the wolf he has roped. There’s a quality of disbelieving humour to be found in these passages, but it soon turns to loss and sadness. There is worse news on his return, and it seems that every move that Billy or his brother, Boyd, are apt to make are prompted by resolute conviction and dogged by the land’s uncaring harshness. Two flaws make this story less perfect than All the Pretty Horses: too much sidelining into other people’s stories, and too much dialogue written wholly in Spanish. In ATPH, this added great atmosphere while retaining the sense of the discussion (one of the things that struck me as proof of McCarthy’s adeptness at writing about the differences on either side of the border), but it is overdone in The Crossing, to the point that I often found I was puzzled at the end of an exchange. Despite this, Billy Parham’s tale is destructive and fascinating, sad and beautifully written.

Cities of the Plain

The protagonists from the previous stories are united in this final book of the Border Trilogy, and working on a ranch together; their friendship brings to this story everything that was fine about the first two tales, while being an instant warning sign to the reader that here are these stubborn sumbitches once again; how long before one or both of them are riding headlong into trouble? Sure enough, John Grady is in love once more, and Billy Parham’s inability to let things go is riding him along behind.

There is no doubt that all three of these tales can seem barren of hope until viewed as a whole after reading, especially the end of the epilogue which leaves us with a sad, quiet peace; instead McCarthy substitutes the odd kinship of those in trouble, friendship, stubbornness, the unspoken and intuited code of cowboys who can’t quit, or won’t, and their love for two Countries during their troubled times.

Despite the sadness that each of these books left with me, I can’t emphasise their beauty enough – John Grady and Billy Parham are two of the most frustrating, yet sympathetic protagonists I’ve run across as a reader. McCarthy’s trilogy were my first reads of 2010, and the rest of the year may well seem frivolous in comparison… what a powerful writer.
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Reading Progress

December 28, 2009 – Shelved
December 28, 2009 – Shelved as: western
Started Reading
January 3, 2010 – Finished Reading

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