The Crossing

This is the second in the ‘The Border Trilogy’ series after ‘All The Pretty Horses’, that book being my first read of a Cormac McCarthy novel which turned me into a fan. The first book follows two young boys on their way toward Mexico to find work where they endure numerous perilous adventures including prison, first love, betrayal and death. Quite possibly the least bleak of McCarthy’s work, which may account in part for why I enjoyed it so much, but even his more downbeat work has much that I admire linguistically.

In ‘The Crossing’ we meet 16 year-old Billy who doesn’t intend to set out on an adventure, it happens almost by accident, he feels the need to put things right; three times he does so, each effort requiring him to cross the border into Mexico on a personal mission.

The first trip he attempts to return an injured, pregnant wolf he has trapped. Rather than kill her, he tries to return her to the mountains where she came from. The second journey with his brother Boyd is an attempt to retrieve stolen horses and the final crossing Billy makes alone to find his missing brother and bring him home.

To read McCarthy is to take a long, sometimes grim journey; a voyage that traverses rough terrain and encounters more evil than good ,while observing the character moulding experiences of its young male protagonist. But worthwhile for the linguistic pleasure of his descriptions and dialogue (some of it in Spanish).

What does the corrido say?

Quijada shook his head. The corrido tells all and it tells nothing. I heard the tale of the güerito years ago. Before your brother was even born.

You don’t think it tells about him?

Yes, it tells about him. It tells what it wishes to tell. It tells what makes the story run. The corrido is the poor man’s history. It does not owe its allegiance to the truths of history but to the truths of men.  It tells the tale of that solitary man who is all men. It believes that where two men meet one of two things can occur and nothing else.  In the one case a lie is born and in the other death.

McCarthy is no optimist, to take a journey into his imagination is tough and if this novel embraces anything, I think it is futility, the shadow that neutralises youthful exuberance and withers righteous intentions, that lingering threat that will keep an older, wiser man within reach of his homestead and away from the troubles that lie in wait of the restless, idealistic man on a dubious if well-intended mission.

But it is in his nature to make that attempt to set things right, not to let things be, to provoke a response and assert his rights, no matter how foolish they appear or dangerous they become.

I really enjoyed taking my time reading this novel, it is written in language I like to be immersed in and is thought-provoking along the entire journey and long after, I don’t need more than that from a good read and leave you with another favourite passage from near the end.

You look like you might have been down here a while, the man said.

I don’t know. What does that look like?

Like you need to get back.

Well. You probably right about that. This is my third trip.  It’s the only time I was ever down here that I got what I come after.  But it sure as hell wasn’t what I wanted.

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39 thoughts on “The Crossing

  1. No way! This is the next book in my TBR pile. Spooky. I love Cormac McC (have you read ‘The Road’ or ‘Child of God’ – amazing), and I count ‘All The Pretty Horses’ among the best novels I’ve read in recent years. I love his vision of America as still a new country – a frontier country engaged in an act of self-discovery even now, yet still with a very rich and meaningful heritage.

    His weird punctuation, polysyndetic syntax and refusal to use semi-colons (resulting in odd comma splices) can be a challenge – there’s always a ‘settling in’ period, I feel, every time I pick up a CM novel – but I love his books.
    Looking forward to this one,
    Awesome review. 🙂

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    • Love when that happens! Can’t wait to read your thoughts on him, I’ve read ‘No Country for Old Men’ which I also liked and I’ve taken ‘The Road’ out from the library to read over summer, I’ve wanted to read that for a while. I don’t know of ‘Child of God’ will look out for it.

      Its interesting about the lack of quotation marks, commas and all that, I don’t comment on it because honestly its lack had no impact on me as a reader, I find it clean and almost pure to read, nothing to halt the music of his language. When someone speaks, the sentence is indented and that seems sufficient and subtle enough for me to comprehend and not to confuse. He’s a writer whose paragraphs I love to reread.

      Are you watching the football?

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      • I’m actually in the middle of a freelance writing commission – the deadline is midday tomorrow – catching up with your blog was my break. 🙂

        But what am I talking about? I wouldn’t be watching the football even if I weren’t working. Not my thing.

        ‘Child of God’ is an acquired taste: it’s relentlessly violent – really, really extreme. Think ‘American Psycho’-extreme. But it’s, somewhat paradoxically, beautiful as well.

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      • Good luck with that, a bit of pressure often inspires the muse 🙂

        Not sure about the excessive violent novels of McCarthy, I think ‘Blood Meridian’ is the same from what I’ve read – but paradoxically beautiful is tempting.

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  2. The Road is still sitting on my shelf unread because frankly I’m frightened to read it. I hate reading depressing and pessimistic novels. Iknow he’s a good writer and that’s why I bought The Road. You may be giving me that extra push to read it sooner. I’m going to try for bfore the end of the year 2012. Thanks for reminding me of CormacMcCarthy!

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  3. Great write-up here, Claire. I haven’t read any Cormac McCarthy yet, but lately I’ve been hearing about him everywhere, particularly from writers/readers I respect. “All the Pretty Horses” is on my list. Thanks for this, and hope you’re having a good weekend!

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    • I remember having that feeling when I picked up the first book at the library, but as with other similarly talked about writers I’ve often avoided, ‘All the Pretty Horses’ appealed instantly and didn’t disappoint. Now I know what to expect and can appreciate his work all the more.

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  4. Interesting as always. While I can tackle tough subjects and significant hurts, I tend to write towards light, of characters that plough on and overcome. I’m wondering how I’d fare reading someone with his approach. 🙂

    Any character helping an injured creature is all right with me.

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    • I think McCarthy’s characters plough on towards the unknown and each encounter is slowly revealed for what it will become, either something that will enable them to progress or something that will delay or halt their momentum. So far I wouldn’t even call it depressing, its realistic – and because they travel into that unknown territory there are more chance encounters that could go either way. The happy ending is by necessity contrived and McCarthy doesn’t seem to live it or want to write it. I think his characters overcome their challenges, its the re-experiencing them as an empathetic reader that I prepare for. The first Part with the wolf is almost an entire story on its own, its just the inevitability of how its likely to end. Take the plunge Nelle!

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  5. Where does he leave his speech marks? Having read No Country for Old Men and owning The Road and also The Border Trilogy, I can’t wait to get stuck in now i’ve read your post. Having said that, it’s a constant theme when I peruse your reviews.

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    • There aren’t any speech marks. But for me it was clear when someone was speaking and who it was, because his writing evokes images clearly or clarifies who is speaking with he said or his father said etc. I don’t think its a problem if you are really into the story.

      Do start ‘The Border Trilogy’, there’s nothing like diving in while feeling motivated and knowing others are reading it at the same time.

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  6. McCarthy is one of those authors whose books I want to read more of but am hesitant because I usually end up sad and depressed afterwards. I read All the Pretty Horses (which I found beautiful and tragic).

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    • Yes, its necessary to choose the right moment to immerse in his work in order to appreciate it, I just find myself intrigued by his construction of sentences and paragraphs, his uniqueness. It does leave me with a sense of achievement having done so and the thought that something more uplifting will follow. In my case a dip into Jhumpha Lahiri’s short stories and novel 🙂

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  7. I think he is a gifted writer but after the first novel I don’t think I could get through a second one – torture for me. Not the words, but as you said he is no optimist. He rips your heart out as you read ( a bit dramatic, but ..) I can’t bring myself to go to that dark side, it’s almost like I have to be in the mind set to take the trip and right now, I am all about sunny beaches and blooming daises. Color me tropical this summer.

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    • What did you read first Brenda? I’m wondering if it was ‘The Road’. I know what you mean, I do think you have to be in the right space before picking up a book that is not going to be uplifting. But living in a non-english speaking country, visits to the library where shelves of english literature are sparse, sometimes I end up reading books I would not have come home from the bookshop with. It’s intriguing to see what is on the shelf.

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  8. I’ve never really been into novels that were dark or bleak. If they have happy endings, I could probably bear through it, but if not, I think it would be quite a difficult ride for me.
    Ashley

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    • I am sure ‘The Road’ is bleak but these two books in ‘The Border Trilogy’ are excellent and not depressing at all; young men 15 or 16 who venture out on their own, good kids, but its a big wide world out there and they will encounter different kinds of people and learn much about themselves through their encounters.

      I mention futility because in McCarthy’s world many well intended acts don’t succeed, or don’t turn out exactly as it was hoped, it is reality and its like life, it also makes the small positive steps feel like significant successes. Despite this, its essentially his beautiful prose that is the drawcard for me, he’s not a writer I pick up for a great and satisyfing story, but to immerse myself in inspiring prose that demands to be read and reread and admired.

      I think you would enjoy ‘All the Pretty Horses’ but I’m with you on the dark and bleak novels – I hear groans from some on mentioning Dicken’s ‘Bleak House’ – at least he warns the reader what’s coming! But how could he name a book that?

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  9. Hmmm- sounds like McCarthy’s world is my world with this house. A well intended act to save a piece of history that’s not exactly turning out as we had hoped! Real life, as you say 🙂 I haven’t read All the Pretty Horses but I have read Bleak House and I watched the movie (I think it was BBC), It definitely lived up to it’s name!
    Ashley

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    • Ah yes, now if McCarthy was writing about life in Provence 🙂 it wouldn’t be like Peter Mayle or all those books that paint a rosy picture of life, it would be the tough reality of the hard work, the constant setbacks, the illogic bureaucracy, the lack of acceptance etc, but importantly and thats another apsect of his work that I like – the perseverance – they keep going, they don’t let the setbacks give them cause to give up, in ordinary language books like that probably wouldn’t sell, but when a writer makes you feel like its you facing the next encounter and makes you experience all the emotions, as he does and sets it in an environment that is alien to the reader, then its engaging. The books about France that have never been written 🙂

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  10. Dear Claire,

    I am glad that you are a Cormac McCarthy enthusiast, too.

    There is a flow to his sentences and paragraphs that is beguiling and I don’t care that he often writes what is dismissed far too quickly as ‘bleak’ or ‘violent’ or needlessly dark. I love his books, one and all. They challenge the reader and you know you’ve been somewhere you might never have gone when at last you return home with the reading of the last page.

    When I find that perfect paragraph from Blood Meridian that I’m going to dig up for Rich, I’ll send it your way, too.

    So nice to talk with you.

    Aloha,

    Doug

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    • It is interesting to note the different passages that readers quote with regard to their favourite writers, it is definitely a personal journey, sometimes the same writer can evoke it many times and produce consistently for certain readers.

      Any writer that is capable of creating those sentences and paragraphs that make me want to read and reread them and wonder how s/he constructed them is a winner to me, regardless of the story. In the same way some films are like that when the cinematography is excellent, I can be lost in the image and not really follow the story.

      McCarthy makes me want to go where I have never been, into the unknown.

      Thanks for dropping by Doug,
      Haere ra,
      Claire

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  11. Working my way though Blood Meridian and I just checked out Child of God from the library. All the Pretty Horses made me an instant fan but I never continued with the Border Trilogy so it was great reading your thoughts on it.

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    • Thanks, it had been a long while since I read ‘All the Pretty Horses’ and it doesn’t lessen the experience to have a time gap. Might try ‘The Road’ next. Will be interested to read your thoughts on those two.

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  12. Your compelling reviews of McCarthy’s “words” are steering me to a place I have long avoided. There are so many daily reminders of the futility and anguish people suffer in life that I tend not to want to go there with my reading. You are tempting me to accept the challenge. As you suggest, I’ll begin with ‘All the Pretty Horses’ and get back to you! Bon weekend! The soccer (football) final tomorrow will be calling to many of us.

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    • His work is fulfilling for me from the writing perspective and he is most definitely a ‘great’ contemporary writer. I like works that stretch my own boudaries, but leave me fulfilled rather than mystified, whihc is probably why I tend toward the contemporary ‘greats’ rather than so many of the old masters.

      But I think you will enjoy ‘All the Pretty Horses’, going on a journey wih someone and seeing them through their highs and lows promotes empathy and he certainly achieves that. Oops missed the football, too busy enjoying the beach, children and my book 🙂

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