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The Crossing (Vintage International (Pb)) School & Library Binding – 1 May 1995
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“The evocative prose and bilingual dialogue used by Cormac McCarthy pose a major challenge to any reader – and Brad Pitt, of all people, passes with flying colours, giving a measured, sombre performance”
Irish Times 3/5/97
A young boy comes of age in the desolate mountains of the Mexican border --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Yes the realism is striking, the prose is at times perfect and the dialogue is better than just about any living writer - when it is in English, and that brings me to the first annoyance. The majority of the dialogue is in Spanish. Of course, if you know Spanish, it will be fun to translate it but for those of us who know little of the language, it raises an enormous unnecessary barrier to comprehension. Added to that, the writing style itself seems to be designed to confuse. The narrative sets out the events without explanation. We are rarely told why the characters act, only how they act. Much of the time, this adds to the power of the work. Some of the time it is simply confusing.
There is a debate in the comments on one of the other reviews about whether, by changing the rules of writing, the author has increased his power of expression. It was argued that great writers are often justified in breaking rules and we must use our imagination to interpret the book. I agree with both of those points. Nevertheless there were many places when I didn't know who was doing what or why. This is not a question of whether it is appropriate to break rules. If an intelligent reader is confused, the author has abjectly failed to communicate.
There were also sections where the narrative strayed into philosophy which sounded like it contained profound wisdom on the meaning of life, but on inspection was just neatly expressed banality.
I kept on reading, while the pleasure diminished and the annoyance grew, until eventually I took the unusual decision of quitting just a few pages from the end. To put this in context, this is my sixth McCarthy novel and the only one I didn't like.
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.
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.
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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A haunting master work, with an echo that stretches beyond its pages.