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.