The Border trilogy

The Border trilogy is made of three books written by Cormac McCarthy: All the pretty horses, The crossing, and Cities of the plain. I have now finished reading those books and I am quite impressed by the dark beauty of the stories as well as by the unusual style of the writer. (I first wanted to read The Road and then decided on trying an earlier book of McCarthy.) Those books are “classics” in the sense that they refer to both a universe and a way to telling stories that have now vanished. (This feeling of reading a “classic” is of course amplified by my version of Border trilogy published in Everyman’s Library collection!) Cormac McCarthy is sometimes compared with William Faulkner; while I cannot really judge whether or not the comparison is apt, there is indeed something of Faulkner’s in the Biblical quality of McCarthy’s stories. Indeed, when I started All the pretty horses, I thought this was a realist story set in a past Southwest about cowboys but the novel soon turned into an allegorical tale about doomed love and lost innocence. This is even stronger in The crossing where each encounter of the brothers with strangers has a  tale-within-the-tale picaresque quality, most of the characters launching into stories  that sound like parables from an alternate Bible. Dialogues abound in the books but they rarely feel like chatter. (Having to decipher half of them from Spanish does add weight to this point!) Mexico is depicted like a primeval and a-moral Eden, where strangers are fed with no question asked, caballeros are considered as an aristocracy, and law-and-order does not mean anything, the local police summarily executing a major character in All the pretty horses… But the morbid fascination it exerts on the young cowboys is so strong it only fits within the Biblical message of the novels, what the New Yorker calls the “deterministic mythmaking of McCarthy”. Although not an easy read, I certainly enjoyed The crossing the most, because of its otherworldliness, the main character Billy pursuing his quests against all odds, first for a wolf,  then for horses and lastly for his brother. The final scene with the mangled dog is a desperately sad counterpoint to the starting plot with the wolf… The last piece of the trilogy Cities of the plain does not ring so true because of the different attitude of this same character. Again, this is the discovery of a major writer for me and I will certainly read some more books of his in a near future!

9 Responses to “The Border trilogy”

  1. […] unscientific entries, Saunderson’s Mistborn and Larson’s Millenium, McCarthy’s Border trilogy missing the top list by three entries… […]

  2. aatif anjum Says:

    As you said that it is very difficult to compare him with William Faulkaner, but I would like to make a point here.

    William Faulkaner wrote long-winded sentences , which were quite difficult to comprehend and many a times the reader lost track of what was said before as the sentences usually went so long that it appeared more like a essay.

    Cormac, on the other hand, writes in a more poetic mannner , short , lucid and beautiful.

    Even his characters are more real unlike Faulkaner’s . So in short, it is my judgement that he is a better writer than William Faulkaner.

  3. You have adequately captured the Prince of Darkness! For those whose fears run unabated,who never gave more than a passing glimpse at this cold-blooded author, there is much to be discovered! Unabashed bitter-sweet momories of the Wild West where only the strong and resilient survive!

  4. when you consider ‘all the pretty horses’, you need to understand that the story wouldn’t exist without the boy who tags along and is afraid of lightning.

  5. Now is the time to read Blood Meridian – my favorite McCarthy novel.

  6. The comparisons to Faulkner are more obvious in his earliest fiction, i.e. The Orchard Keeper or Suttree. His western fiction, save Blood Meridian, seem to draw inspiration more from Hemmingway. There is something of Hemmingway in The Road also, with its minimalist descriptions of day to day life (in a post-apocalyptic world!). If you liked The Border Trilogy (frankly I think All the Pretty Horses is a masterpiece, the other two not so much, although the first part of The Crossing with Billy and the Wolf is some of the best writing McCarthy has done) then I highly recommend Blood Meridian, which is not only his best novel but one of the greatest American novels written in the 20th century (in my opinion of course). I also think his earlier fiction, especially Child of God and Suttree, are among his best. People highly praise The Road, and while I think it is good I don’t think it is the best example of how good McCarthy can be. Anyway those are my rambling thoughts. I’m a huge fan of the author and I always jump at any opportunity to talk about him!

  7. David Lewis Says:

    Try Blood Meridian, its awesome!

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