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Cities of the Plain


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Cormac McCarthy is the author of ten acclaimed novels, most recently The Road. Among his honours are the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

About the Author

Cormac McCarthy is the author of ten acclaimed novels, most recently The Road. Among his honours are the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.


The final volume of the "Border Trilogy" finds John Grady and Billy Parham, the heroes of All the Pretty Horses (LJ 5/15/92) and The Crossing (LJ 1/94), respectively, working side by side on a New Mexico cattle ranch in the early 1950s. Grady is 19, and Billy is just a few years older, but these are two of the toughest, most self-possessed hombres in recent fiction. Their uncanny maturity makes sense only in the context of the previous books. The plot, long in development, is simple: Grady falls in love with an epileptic teenage prostitute across the border in Juarez and vows to rescue her, whatever the cost. Again, Grady's earlier Mexican adventures motivate and inform this desperate romance. McCarthy's prose is mesmerizing, and his descriptions of the Southwest and the vanishing cowboy lifestyle are superb. This work is a strong and satisfying conclusion to a magisterial series, but it is probably advisable to read this installment in its proper sequence. Libraries will want all three volumes, which make up one of the great literary works of the decade. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/97.]ÄEdward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles

This volume concludes McCarthy's Border Trilogy‘the first two books being All the Pretty Horses, which won the National Book Award in 1992, and The Crossing, published to great acclaim in '94. Devoted McCarthy readers will know not to expect any neat or dramatic resolution in Cities of the Plain, for the author is more of a poet than a novelist, more interested in wedding language to experience in successive moments than in building and setting afloat some narrative ark. Cities, like the other books, takes place sometime shortly after WWII along the Texas-Mexico border. John Grady Cole, the young, horse-savvy wanderer from All the Pretty Horses, and Billy Parham, who traveled in search of stolen horses with his younger brother in The Crossing, are now cowhands working outside El Paso. John Grady falls in love with Magdalena, a teenage prostitute working in Juarez, Mexico; determined to marry her, he runs afoul of her pimp, Eduardo. That is basically the narrative. Along the way, McCarthy treats the reader to the most fabulous descriptions of sunrises, sunsets, the ways of horses and wild dogs, how to patch an inner tube. The cowboys engage in almost mythically worldly-wise, laconic dialogues that are models of concision and logic. Although there is less of it here than in the earlier books, McCarthy does include a few of his familiar seers, old men and blind men who speak in prophetic voices. Their words serve as earnest if cryptic instructions to the younger lads and seem to unburden the novelist of his vision of America and its love affair with free will. If a philosophy of life were to be extracted from these tales, it would seem to be that we are fated to be whatever we are, that what we think are choices are really not; that betrayals of the heart are always avenged; and that following one's heart is a guarantee of nothing. There is not much solace in McCarthy-land; there is only the triumph of prose, endlessly renewed, forever in search of a closure it will not find save in silence. 200,000 first printing; BOMC alternate; simultaneous audio, read by Brad Pitt. (May)

YA-The final book in a trilogy that began with All the Pretty Horses (1992) and continued with The Crossing (1994, both Knopf). John Grady Cole and Billy Parham still love the life of the cowboy, but by 1951 they recognize that this lifestyle is fast disappearing. They work on a ranch near the Mexican border that will eventually be taken over by the federal government for use by the military. On a trip south of the border, John Grady sees a beautiful young woman in a whorehouse and becomes obsessed with her. She has been in bondage since she was barely in her teens and suffers from epileptic seizures. Much of the novel follows his efforts to free her and take her back to New Mexico. His efforts are doomed, however, for her powerful pimp will not let her go, and the story ends in tragedy. Despite the serious and even depressing subject matter, the novel is both arresting and entertaining in its depiction of the southwest in all its sere beauty and its realistic look at ranch life and the characters who choose it.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA

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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