Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow Motion Western, 24 Feb 2011
This review is from: Cities of the Plain (Border Trilogy) (Paperback)
This is a book that requires a lot of patience from the reader who must at times think he is in the Mild rather than the Wild West despite the ending that is straight out of High Noon when the good guy meets the bad guy.

The basis of the plot - a young American cowhand who falls in love with a Mexican prostitute and his determination to free her from the clutches of her pimp - promises and provides an exciting (if melodramatic) ending.

The idea is ridiculous, of course, and the writer does not give a convincing enough reason to justify it - whether over-the-top Wuthering Heights-type passion or bodice-ripping corny love story.

As a result, the book is structurally weak and the climax is predictable.

However, that is not the only problem. McCarthy's buildup is so slow that the reader is lassoed into a series of detours and trips that are maddeningly slow - numbing descriptions of meals in which every forkful of food is described or grinding dialogue between cowhands that make you scream out for some action.

Here are a couple of samples of what to expect:

Mornin cowboy, he said.
|Mornin. What happened to the windshield?
Owl.
Owl?
Owl.

Or

I know who you are, he said.
You know who I am?
Yes.
Who am I?
You are the trujaman.
What's that?
You don't speak spanish?
I speak spanish.

When the Big Scene arrives and the all-American hero faces the Mexican baddy, we end up with dialogue that reads like something from Graham Greene's absurd Argentinean novelist Dr Saavedra whose dense books always end up in knife fights and a body lying in a pool of blood on the floor.

I wonder if McCarthy read The Honorary Consul, in which Saavedra appears, where one of the main characters, an Englishman, also marries a prostitute.

On the hand, some scenes are well written and exciting - the opening pages in a sleazy cantina-cum-brothel or a long description of a hunt for pack of wild dogs that has been ravaging a herd.

The style - no punctuation to show dialogue, idiosyncratic dropping of capitals and raw American dialect mixed with whole sentences in Spanish - is another feature that takes getting used to.

Overall this is not a bad read but I feel the writer imagines that his blunt, stark prose is enough to convey what is a rather feeble plot and clichéd dialogue. Despite this, I rather liked the book overall.

On the other hand, if the blurb comments are to be believed then many critics feel that McCarthy is one of the US's greatest writers, a claim I find it difficult to take seriously.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Apr 2013 16:12:46 BDT
You're right of course. The dialogue is weak in places and overall it doesn't feel like a satisfying read. I'm only part of the way through it, but I hear you on the lack of action! A Western writer is duty-bound to give readers some action, gunfights, brawls, indoors and outdoors. Otherwise they should choose another genre.
The first two pages of the first book in this trilogy (All the Pretty Horses) is even worse - a very long, overly detailed purple-prose style account of a man walking into a house, walking out of it again, then changing his mind and re-entering. Yaaawn. I am no lover of gratuitous violence but less than halfway through that book I was thinking MORE GUNS PLEASE.
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