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Cities of the Plain (Border Trilogy) Paperback – 1 Jan 2010
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On a Texan ranch, soon after the second world war, a group of solitary, inarticulately lonely men gathers to work animals as the sun sets for good on the mythic American West. All of these men nurse losses both personal (siblings or wives) and collective (a shared lifestyle and philosophy). Among them is John Grady Cole, the adolescent hero of the first book in Cormac McCarthy's Border trilogy, All the Pretty Horses. John Grady remains the magnificent horseman he always was, and he still dreams too much. On the ranch, he meets Billy Parham, whose own tragic sojourn through Mexico in The Crossing, the second book of the set, continues to quietly suffocate him. The two form a friendship that will nurture both but save neither from the destiny that McCarthy's characters always sense lurching to meet them.
Soaked in storm-heavy atmosphere but brightened by the ranchers' easy camaraderie and gentle humour, Cities of the Plain surprises with its sweetness. The awkward doomed-romance plot at the centre of this tight, concise novel fails to convince, but, remarkably, does little to undercut the book's impact. What lingers here, and what matters, are the brooding, eerie portraits of the plains and the riders, glimpsed mostly alone but occasionally leaning together, who slip across them, over the horizon and into memory. -- Glen Hirshberg --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
In a lovely and terrible landscape of natural beauty and impending loss we find John Grady; a young cowboy of the old school, trusted by men and horses, and a fragile young woman, whose salvation becomes his obsession . . . McCarthy makes the sweeping plains a miracle. (Scotsman)
Like the Western settings he captures to perfection, his work is both heart-wrenchingly beautiful and uncompromisingly brutal. (Express)
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Times are changing as the 20th century progresses, however, and the independent life of ranchers is threatened. In The Crossing, a far darker novel which takes place a few years later, Billy Parham, another young man, takes off with his brother, crossing the border into Mexico, to explore its older traditions and ways of life. Cities of the Plain, with Biblical suggestions in the title, brings young John Grady Cole and the older Billy Parham together, as they work on the McGovern ranch in Texas in the 1950s. The wilderness is disappearing, cities are encroaching, and an army base may take their land.
Focusing less on the harshness of ranch life than in past novels, McCarthy here concentrates more on character, in this case, that of John Grady Cole, who falls in love with a prostitute from Juarez and wants to bring her across the border to his way of life. Billy Parham counsels him against marrying her, but John Grady is determined to wrest her away from Eduardo, her manager, and give her the peace that she has never known. Life is harsh, however, and outcomes are bleak for dreamers and altruists. John Grady soon finds himself engaged in a struggle with Eduardo which is vicious and unrelenting, a metaphorical struggle between honor and evil, and between civilized values and the "justice" of tooth and claw, hope and desperation, and acceptance of change and adherence to the past.
McCarthy's gorgeous descriptions of this vanishing way of life on the ranch are as effective here as they are in the other novels in the trilogy, though they seem to be presented nostalgically. Times are changing, and the "old man," the ranch owner, is now becoming senile. Civilization is drawing closer, and John Grady, the cowboy, uses taxis instead of horses when he is in a hurry to travel. As McCarthy draws the reader into John Grady's story, the reader knows that the struggle between him and Eduardo is a mythic struggle, and s/he also knows what the likely outcome will be. The elegance with which the ending is drawn, however, gives both potency and poignancy to McCarthy's message. Mary Whipple
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