The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
The Crossing is book 2 of The Border Trilogy. With a completely different cast of characters from All the Pretty Horses (book 1) they both involve innocent teenaged boys who cross the U.S. border into Mexico on horseback and suffer at the hands of Mexican villains. Perhaps book 3, Cities of the Plain will tie the two individual novels together in some way.
If you read All the Pretty Horses and thought the plot was dark, gruesome, and foreboding, as the cliche goes, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The Crossing starts out bleak and proceeds to become downright depressing. About a third of the way through I had nightmares two nights in a row and had to set the book aside for a few days. Not to say you shouldn’t read it. Cormac McCarthy’s writing is mesmerizing. He creates microscopic focus on his characters and their surroundings. The story becomes real. The human vulnerability heart wrenching. Their pain palpable. A literary experience not to be missed.
The basis of the trilogy… thus far, seems to be that during the era of pre-WWII life below U.S. border was lawless and treacherous. Anyone with the misfortune of traveling alone and unarmed was in danger. Even armed, survival sometimes came down to who was the fasted on the draw. Other themes include the unpredictability of life, choosing good over evil, and the need for human interaction and companionship.
During Billy Parham’s travels through Mexico he comes in contact with many murderers, thieves, and bandoleros (bandits). But he also encounters some decent people including several wise old men who are quick to give advise, compassionate women who patch his clothes and feed him, a band of gypsies, and a traveling carnival.
Regarding good and evil, one elderly priest warns Billy, “To see God everywhere is to see him nowhere. We go from day to day, one day much like the next, and then on a certain day all unannounced we come upon a man or we see this man who is perhaps already known to us and is a man like all men but who makes a certain gesture of himself that is like the piling of one’s goods upon an alter and in this gesture we recognize that which is buried in our hearts and is never truly lost to us nor ever can be and it is this moment, you see. This same moment. It is this which we long for and are afraid to seek and which alone can save us”.
Words from a wise old Spanish man on companionship, “He told the boy that although he was a huerfano (orphan) still he must cease his wanderings and make for himself some place in the world because to wander in this way would become for him a passion and by this passion he would become estranged from men and so ultimately from himself. He said that the world could only be known as it existed in men’s hearts. For while it seemed a place which contained men it was in reality a place contained within them and therefore to know it one must look there and come to know those hearts and to do this one must live with men not simply pass among them.”
At times McCarthy seems overly indulgent in his storytelling but he weaves the tale with such beautiful prose it is hard to complain when the story seems to be going no where. He sets the stage, creates a mood, and carries his characters to unforeseen destinations.
And in spite of the bleak content of the plot, the dialogue between Billy and his brother is amusing. They aren’t big on talking, but In sparse understated conversations, they hurl one-line quips at each other that are laugh out loud funny.
The Crossing can be read as a stand alone novel, but if you are not going to read the first 2 books, you might as well forget about reading the 3rd book. The impact of the plot will be lost on you.
Rated 4.5 Stars February 13, 2016
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