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on 10 May 2009
It is impossible to read a single paragraph of Cormac McCarthy's without being struck by the extraordinary power of his authorial voice. He writes with the rhythms of the King James Bible and with same alternate plainness and power. There is a weight to his words that is seldom seen, a heft behind each sentence. It as if his prose were carved in stone.

Into these sentences and paragraphs, onto these words, these stones, McCarthy scatters a cast of men (and fewer women) good and bad. Prophets, kindly, diligent doctors, wise women, sneering, jeering ruffians, petty officials, simple lunatics - all are to be found in these pages. Many of these figures come laden with tales, prophetic or otherwise, of broken churches and broken men, of lost wanderers, of lost heroes.

And McCarthy has heroes of his own, of course, both human and otherwise. The latter heroes are the landscapes of Mexico and the southernmost United States - harshly beautiful, uncompromising, demanding - and the animals that dot them: the she-wolf Billy Parham stalks at the opening of the tale, the horse he rides, the horses belonging to their father that Billy and younger brother Boyd seek to recover from across the border.

Lastly there come Boyd and Billy himself. The former young, impatient, is perhaps the more obviously heroic, a figure who becomes easily worked into song a into legend. The latter, loyal to a fault and beyond, dogged, determined to prove something - if not to the world then to himself - is the river that winds through the novel's stone-graven landscape, sometimes meandering, sometimes threatening to peter out but somehow always passing forward to his unknown, uncomprehended destinations.

Great stuff.
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on 11 May 1999
Once again Cormac McCarthy has written a novel that defines its time. Where All the Pretty Horses described the West in the years immediately after WW2, The Crossing travels back to the pre-war period where the Old West is in its death throes. The story of Billy Parnham, and the trials visited on him, is breathtaking and moving, climaxing in a violent manner that no-one can predict. The only drawback in the Border Trilogy novels is McCarthy's over use of Spanish dialogue. For non-speakers this can detract from what is otherwise a superlative read. I can't wait to read the last instalment Cities of the Plain. With the first two books of the trilogy McCarthy has taken his place alongside Hemingway as one of the great writers of the American Novel.
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on 23 March 2011
The Crossing is the 2nd book in Cormac McCarthy's `Border Trilogy' (`All The Pretty Horses' being the 1st & `Cities Of The Plains' being the 3rd), but you don't need to have read `All The Pretty Horses' to read this as they are 2 completely unrelated stories, except in terms of theme.

Set prior to the Second World War, it's the story of Billy Parham, a boy who traps a wolf on his family's land, then on a whim sets off to return the animal to the mountains of Mexico. He doesn't realise that this journey will change his life forever and upon his return from Mexico he finds events have occurred that mean he can never again be who he once was.

This is a typical Cormac McCarthy book full of beautifully evocative description of the prairie landscape and well written characters, the story does slow down in places, but never enough to detract from the greatness of the book.

I would highly recommend this to anyone, but a word of caution, if you do not have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish I would suggest you keep a dictionary or Google Translate close to hand as there are some passages of dialogue conducted in Spanish.
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on 3 October 2012
Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing isn't so much concerned with the violent and sudden breach of clearly demarcated borders as much as it is with the slow bleed-out and eventual death of innocence, tradition and stability. There's a parallel to be found between Billy's journey from affectionate and naive purity to hardhearted maturity (via, of course, the violent upheaval of cruel experience), and the changes that the American South underwent during the sudden industrialisation of the early Twentieth Century.

It's almost a truism for reviewers to draw a distinction between the literal crossing of borders undertaken by the book's protagonist (America to Mexico), and the subtextual crossing of child- into adulthood; but there's also a third implied narrative, one that concerns itself with national identity, with the U.S as a frontier nation, in a state of perpetual flux. It's telling that McCarthy begins the novel with an assertion that the country "was itself little older than [a] child", and ends with an allowance that "The past is always this argument between counterclaimants. It is history that each man makes alone from what is left. Bits of wreckage. Some bones.". It's these more allegorical boundaries which, much like its predecessor All the Pretty Horses, firmly establish this novel as a uniquely American bildungsroman.

The Crossing tells the story of three journeys made by teenager Billy Parnham from his home in New Mexico down into Mexico proper, all in the late 1930s. The first expedition sees him attempting to lead an injured, pregnant wolf back to her home territory; in the second journey he travels even further south, looking for the horses stolen from his family; and the third crossing sees a hardened yet defeated Billy searching for his missing younger brother, Boyd. The book doesn't quite hark back to the levels of cruelty and darkness that McCarthy displayed in his earlier output (Blood Meridian, Child of God, Outer Dark being the most nihilistically exposed of his opus), but it is nonetheless unremittingly bleak and violent; a definite system shock when compared with the relatively more optimistic tone of its sort-of prequel, the aforementioned All the Pretty Horses. The heartbreaking and insistent sequence of tragic events that punctuate Billy's journeys and which all encapsulate some form of loss (both literal and figurative: his family, his home, his innocence) do run the risk of overwhelming the reader, or even verging on the self-indulgent; but separating the book's more shattering set-pieces are long passages of wilderness writing, which often act as sympathetic fallacy for Billy's situation - dark and tempestuous when he's at his lowest ebb. This not only imbues the book (and Billy's journeys) with an impressive sense of scale and majesty, but further establishes the notion that The Crossing is as much concerned with America as nation and landscape as it is with the struggles of its individual characters.

Stylistically, The Crossing is characteristic McCarthy: long sentences constructed in polysyndetic syntax are very much the grammatical standard, with a striking and only occasionally tedious penchant for meticulous physical descriptions. As with all McCarthy novels, there's also an attendant lack of punctuation: no marks to indicate direct speech, very few apostrophes (even when they're grammatically appropriate) and even fewer commas.

"The winter that Boyd turned fourteen the trees inhabiting the dry river bed were bare from early on and the sky was gray day after day and the trees were pale against it a cold wind had come down from the north with the earth running under bare poles towards a reckoning whose ledgers would be drawn up and dated only long after all due claims had passed, such is this history."

I'm tempted to make some twee comparison between the barren emptiness of the book's landscapes, and the typographical ways this is reflected in the absence of punctuation, but there's really only a very limited extent to which even I could draw-out such a trite association. Ahem. I will, however, remark on the unusual sense of power that McCarthy's prose seems to carry. There's something about his narration that's so heavy and authoritative, as if Cormac McCarthy isn't describing his personal vision of America, or giving us some lyrical interpretation of a subjective point of view; he seems, rather, to be telling things exactly as they are, as if he's carved into stone an absolutely inviolable and sacred record of the world in its making. I'm not sure how he achieves this: maybe it's the sheer length and microscopic focus of his descriptions coupled with his lexicon of earthy, physical words, or maybe the simplicity and directness of his writing contains some biblical and hypnagogic quality that transcends the usual vagaries of fiction writing to imbue upon The Crossing a sense of absolute authority. Either way, the book almost defies its notional identity as a novel to feel, instead, like some kind of definite, objective and truthful record of America. This is exacerbated by the book's unsympathetic treatment of its readership; with almost all of the dialogue rendered in unstranslated Spanish, there's a faithfulness to realism that's given precedence over the needs and concerns of the individual reader.

The Crossing is an extraordinary novel. It's difficult to discuss the finer points of its plot without resorting to massive spoilers, but Billy's compassionate treatment of a trapped wolf that is the book's beginning, and his violent attack against an old dog that is the book's end should give you some indication of the bleak and pain-filled journey contained within the intervening 400 pages, and of the histrionic and deeply moving changes that effect and re-mould the perennially lost protagonist. It would be somewhat amateurish of me to list, verbatim, all of the different `crossings' (metaphoric or otherwise) that dominate the book, but I couldn't help but feel that the most significant journey is the one that none of the characters ever truly accomplish: to cross the vast landscapes between one another, and to stop themselves from ever feeling acutely and profoundly alone.
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on 13 August 2008
Really great book. It's amazing how such spare prose can be so powerful. The absence of artifice makes it really feel as if McCarthy really experienced all the things that he writes about. Tremendous. Must read the next one.

One tiny whinge - my spanish is not good enough to understand all the dialogue that is in Spanish. Couldn't it be translated somehow without ruining the flow?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 August 2010
Set just before the Second World War, sixteen year old Billy Parham is living with his parents and younger brother on a ranch in New Mexico. The appearance of a wolf in the area captivates Billy's imagination, and when he eventually traps the animal, on an impulse he decides to take it back into Mexico from whence it came. However when he eventually returns to the family ranch it is not as he left it. He journeys into Mexico twice more, once with his younger brother, and then again at the age or twenty.

The Crossing, the second book in the Border Trilogy, is a gripping, and often moving account of a young boy's adventures and troubles. While filled with minute detail words are never wasted, and McCarthy's only use of punctuation is the full stop, and even that is used with economy. Billy's story is occasionally interspersed with the stories of others, such as that of the ageing blind man.

A lot of the dialogue is in Spanish, and there are no translations, but that does not seem to interfere with or hamper one's understanding. The Crossing is a most absorbing and memorable read.
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on 17 February 2012
This is a review of "The Crossing", "Picador Edition", by Cormac McCarthy. My book has a picture of a wolf drinking water on the front cover.

I speak/read/understand enough "American-Spanish" (Castellano) to have been able to read this without using a dictionary, but can imagine it being a frustrating experience for anyone without some knowledge of Spanish.

I feel that the editor and/or publisher could help this author appeal to a much wider audience by footnoting words and expressions which are "castellano" with a simple translation.

Some of the passages were wonderfully written; I thought that some of his descriptions of the wolf were better than any other wolf-descriptions I have ever read, including Jack London.

Overall, he's describing people who are a bit too raw for my taste (I must have led a sheltered life) .... but I can readily understand that some readers will be die-hard fans.
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on 26 April 2008
This book is one that will stick in my mind for years to come. It depicts a life and a landscape that is unremittingly stark and brutal. One critic described it as a novel that leaves the reader feeling "emotionally ransacked" and I could not agree more. It was deeply upsetting and unsettling at times but a must-read book.
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on 31 October 1999
Cormac McCarthy leaves most contemporary writers of the English language light-years behind him in this majestic novel set in Mexico and the American south. Apart from the cowboys and the Mexicans, the true heroes of this novel are the English language and the limpid poetic vision with which McCarthy presents his harrowing view of the world. Beautiful, awe-inspiring, possessed of a moral framework which is required by all truly great writers, this is one of the great books of the 1990s - read it!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 September 2013
This is the second volume of Cormac McCarthy's aptly named "Border Trilogy." After a reading of the first, All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy 1), I knew I would complete the trilogy. Among other reasons, the novels are "set in my backyard," if one takes an expansive view of same: the border being the one between the United States and Mexico. In the first volume, American adolescents from Texas crossed into Mexico to "find their way in the world." In this volume, "the crossing" of the adolescent (a different one, different time period) is from New Mexico into Mexico, and the purpose is a bit different.

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.
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