Cities of the Plain


Cities of the Plain, by Cormac McCarthy is the concluding book in a trilogy of books (you might say trinity) that follows All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing. It has taken me about 15 years to complete the trilogy. That is because the books are so intense. They contain scenes of excruciating violence. I could not abide the thought that I should quickly go from one to another. The books are dark and skewer all  facile optimism. These are books that make you think and make you feel at the same time. Like Saul Bellow, I do not believe  thinking and feeling are severed from each other. I have the feeling/thought that it is the same with McCarthy. They are one.

The first book, made into a film, was about 2 boys going to Mexico from New Mexico in a search of stolen horse taken after their father died. The boys grow and meander though the 3 novels. Each of the 3 books are powerful. They are not easy reads. McCarthy makes it difficult. But the books are worth the trip. Like Steinbach claims (with much less justification). Read them all.

The books straddle the old and the new like the plains and the cities of the title. They also straddle the border between the US and Mexico–the blood meridian. They also straddle the time of the old west and the new west. The people are tough–incredibly tough.

At the end of the trilogy (I won’t tell you who so as not to ruin the surprise) the one character who has meandered (I love that word again) through the series, is sitting next to a woman whose children have been regaled by his stories of “horses and cattle and the old days” is watched by her. They look at his old weathered (experienced) hands: “ropy veins that bound them to his heart. There was map enough for men to read. There God’s plenty of signs and wonders to make a landscape. To make a world.”

Each book in the trilogy is dark in its own way, yet each has a vision of light that pokes through the darkness as well. John Grady, the young protagonist, learns a very hard lesson. He learns what Eduardo says, “The world may be many different ways for them but there is one world that will never be and that is the world they dream of.”  Dreams are important in the book yet they are also not entirely real. Yet at the end we also learn, “This life of yours is not a picture of the world. It is the world itself and it is composed not of bone or dream or time but of worship. Nothing else can contain it. Nothing else be by it contained.” Is that really dark?

Read the series. You will be well rewarded.

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