The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

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Reviewed by Alan Cogan

Cogan’s Reviews

This, like its predecessor, All The Pretty Horses, is another coming-of-age story involving a young American in the border country between Mexico and New Mexico in the 1930s. Billy Parham is sixteen years old when he traps a wolf in New Mexico and decides to take the injured animal back across the border to its home. The first third of the book is taken up with the story of Billy and the wolf. Implausible as it no doubt sounds as the basis of a story it is no less implausible to the characters both boy and wolf meet along the way. However, it’s an interesting journey.

The wolf eventually dies, before being released, and Billy returns to New Mexico to find his home destroyed and the family’s horses stolen. With his younger brother Billy he returns to Mexico to find them. Billy never ceases in his various quests. Along the way he meets a great cast of characters – gypsies, horse thieves, horse traders, various religious folk and soldiers left over from the just ended Mexican Revolution. The most interesting story is the one about the blind revolutionary. It contains an incident you’ll never forget after you read it.

McCarthy, in telling Billy’s story, gives off enough vibes to suggest a wide range of deeper meanings….a boy becoming a man, rites of passage, the search for one’s destiny, acceptance of one’s fate…. If you want to explore a few, look up The Crossing in (See the links above) There are the usual McCarthy biblical overtones…..sentences like: “Alfonso drank not.” And there are the usual descriptions that stop you in your tracks, like: “She (the wolf) watched him with her yellow eyes and in them was no despair but only that same reckonless deep of loneliness that cored the world to its heart.” (My spell check just highlighted “reckonless” for me).

The biggest mystery to me about The Crossing is why the author insists on inserting so much Spanish dialog into the narrative. For me, it’s no problem. In fact, I found it a rather good Spanish lesson. But for non-Spanish speakers it must be a huge impediment to understanding what’s happening. I’m not talking about exchanges like Buenas dias, Como esta? Bien, gracias. But in The Crossing there are hundreds of paragraphs like the following:

Bueno, the woman said. Como en todos los cuentos hay tres viajeros con quienes nos encontramos en el camino. Ya nos hemos encontrado la mujer y el hombre. She looked at the boy. Puede acertar quien es el tercero?

Un niño?

Un niño. Exactamente.

Pero es verídica, esta historia?

Again, I’m sounding as though I didn’t much like The Crossing. No, I enjoyed it as much as McCarthy’s other book, All The Pretty Horses, reviewed last month. 16 year old Billy Parham is a terrific character and a true hero. The Mexican/U.S. border setting is described perfectly. We gringos drive through that area and see nothing but desolation. When McCarthy goes to work it becomes a gigantic mythological stage setting in which all his characters live out their stories.

The Crossing is subtitled “Book Two of The Border Trilogy”. I hope the third volume arrives soon.

Verdict: If this book arrived today, I would drop what I was reading and start this instead.

The Crossing
By Cormac McCarthy

Knopf 1994

Available from Amazon Books: Hardcover

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Published or Updated on: January 1, 2003 by Alan Cogan © 2008
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