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Cormac McCarthy: Cities of the Plain

This is the final novel in the trilogy and the least successful. It is primarily a love story – a tragic story. John Grady, from the two previous books, sees a young consumptive Mexican whore in a whorehouse in Mexico and falls in love with her. Getting her away is the problem. Though she is willing, her employer is not and John Grady has to scheme and plot to do so with the inevitable tragedy. This is not enough to sustain a novel and the rest of the novel might best be described as daily life at the ranch. Of course, in McCarthy’s hands this is very well handled but it does not make for a great novel, despite the fine set pieces such as the dog hunt and John Grady’s evaluation of horses. There is the sub-theme – the one that the old cowboy ways are disappearing, symbolised by John Grady’s inevitable death but also hinted at in various ways throughout the novel. The ending, however, when Billy Parham, well into the future (specifically 2002), and now 78, meets Death is very well handled, in McCarthy’s usual manner of using myth without making it seem contrived.

Publishing history

First published 1998 by Knopf