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Cities of the Plain

by Cormac McCarthy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Border Trilogy (3)

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3,012293,483 (3.99)86
A Texas cowboy falls in love with a Mexican prostitute, only to discover he has a rival, her pimp. The pimp refuses to let her go because he will lose money and the stage is set for a violent confrontation.

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English (26)  French (1)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Cormac McCarthy concludes his border trilogy about the west with a book that is spare and almost allegorical in its storytelling. All the Pretty Horses combined intensely lyrical prose with the laconic wit of its cowboy protagonists while its sequel, The Crossing, sent two young brothers on a quest that plunged them into the bloody maelstrom of Mexican politics. Cities of the Plain unites John Grady Cole with his older "buddy" Billy Parham, and centers on a doomed relationship between John Grady and a Mexican prostitute. It is notable for its shockingly brutal feral dog-roping scene, its coruscating, vivid depiction the lost world of small horse-ranch life in the American southwest, and also for its fabular epilogue, an extended meditation on the nature of narrative and the forms of human destiny.

With Cities of the Plain the dreams have receded, the young men Billy and John Grady are older and their journeys have goals. This is a book that is bleaker in the telling even as the romanticism of John Grady Cole provided significant interest for this reader. The time is 1952, the place a cattle ranch in New Mexico. The West is changing as suggested by a brief interchange between John Grady and Billy early in the novel:

"What are you readin? Destry." (p 59)

Destry Rides Again by Max Brand is a classic example of the "myth of the old West". This is the life that is fading in the early 1950's and the question is will our heroes adapt or rebel against the inevitability of change. The change is not without difficulty and there are the ghosts of the past which they face as depicted in the following passage:
"They sat against a rock bluff high in the Franklins with a fire before them that heeled in the wind and their figures cast up upon the rocks behind them enshadowed the petroglyphs carved there by other hunters a thousand years before." (p 87)

Shadowed by ghosts of the past and chastened but not defeated by their youthful misadventures, John Grady Cole of All the Pretty Horses and Billy Parham of The Crossing have become blood brothers of a sort, clinging stubbornly to a vanishing way of life. With the U.S. Army proposing to turn their employer's ranch into a military base, the two fantasize about owning a little spread in the mountains, where they might run a few cattle and hunt their own meat. But when John Grady falls in love with a teenage prostitute in a brothel called "White Lake" across the Rio Grande, his desires collide with powers reminiscent of his those he encountered in All the Pretty Horses.

''There's a son of a bitch owns her outright that I guarangoddamntee you will kill you graveyard dead if you mess with him,'' Billy warns him. ''Son, aint there no girls on this side of the damn river?''
Alas, for John Grady there are none that can compare with Magdalena. He does not worry about Eduardo, her pimp, with whom he must deal if he is to have her and his stubborn idealism sets in motion a chain of events that cannot be avoided. In fact, the question of one's destiny is present throughout this final part to the trilogy. Before the ultimate scenes of the novel there is a telling exchange between Billy and John Grady.

"John Grady nodded. What would you do if you coundnt be a cowboy?
I dont know. I reckon I'd think of somethin. You?
I dont know what it would be I'd think of.
Well we may all have to think of somethin." (p 217)

Combine McCarthy's two previous novels with this somber tome and you have a masterpiece of contemporary fiction and a worthy contribution to the literature of the West. All three are works of a master story-teller, an author who speculates (some might say pontificates) on the nature of stories. So I will end with one moment of speculation about stories among many that I encountered during my journey through the trilogy:

"These dreams reveal the world also, he said. We wake remembering the events of which they are composed while often the narrative is fugitive and difficult to recall. Yet it is the narrative that is the life of the dream while the events themselves are often interchangeable. The events of the waking world on the other hand are forced upon us and the narrative is the unguessed axis along which they must be strung. It falls to us to weigh and sort and order these events. It is we who assemble them into the story which is us. Each man is the bard of his own existence." (p 283) ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 1, 2021 |
I resisted opening the finale of this spectacular trilogy out of fear that it would disappoint. Or maybe I didn’t want to see these beloved characters come to a definitive conclusion. Once I began it was impossible to stop. Cities is one of the writer’s best in a long catalogue of spectacular fiction. This novel has the benefit of a deep background for the protagonists of the earlier novels and the recurring motif of the boarder land, the transgression, the right way of doing something, the quality of horses, mystery, desire, the search for meaning, the question of value, the doubt in free will, and the end of a time are all revisited. In this work the author has refined these themes to become sharper than Eduardo’s switchblade.

The language of the characters and the description of the land reminds me how I feel in love with the southwest. I love this book. ( )
  ProfH | Dec 20, 2020 |
Cormac McCarthy ties in All the Pretty Horses with The Crossing through the intersections of John Cole Grady and Billy Parham through this deeply moving and stirring examination of the west and the human heart. I am really glad I read the entire trilogy. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
The Border Trilogy really took it out of me. Cities of the Plain is more a meditation on the state of men who are caught between or unwilling to adapt to the modern world and its left me with a heavy heart. The tone of Cities of the Plain is definitely in line with All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing and it is a worthy finale. I was surprised at the amount of dialogue, it's like McCarthy was saving it all for this book, and the themes the author develops in No Country for Old Men and The Road are at the forefront of this novel, the imagery that struck me the most was the constant juxtaposition of the neon lights of Juarez and the ancient cave paintings out in the desert. I would have liked a bit more development between John Grady and Billy to ground the reader in their friendship rather than making it a foregone conclusion. If you've made it this far in the Border Trilogy don't stop now, although if you have made it this far I'd say you're liable to read this book regardless of reviews. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
That brief moment between a culture's existence and extinction -- this is the border that McCarthy's characters keep crossing and recrossing, and the one story, as he's forever writing, that contains all others.
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Sara Mosle (May 17, 1998)

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cormac McCarthyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Montanari, RaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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They stood in the doorway and stomped the rain from their boots and swung their hats and wiped the water from their faces.
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A Texas cowboy falls in love with a Mexican prostitute, only to discover he has a rival, her pimp. The pimp refuses to let her go because he will lose money and the stage is set for a violent confrontation.

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