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Cormac McCarthy: The Crossing

This novel is set in the late 1930s. It is the story of Billy and Boyd Parham, aged sixteen and fourteen respectively at the beginning of the novel, who live on a ranch in New Mexico. A wolf – she-wolf, as it happens – is prowling around their ranch. Billy and his father go after her and, after several successful attempts, Billy manages to capture her. Instead of killing her, he decides to take her back to Mexico. The journey of man and beast, through country where wolves are not well loved, is a triumphant tour de force of writing that only McCarthy could pull off with such splendour. This part alone makes the book a classic. The fact that the story ends in tragedy only heightens the tone of the novel.

But when Billy gets home, he finds that his parents have been murdered and the horses stolen. So, accompanied by Boyd, he again sets out for Mexico, to look for his horses. He gets back one of his horses and but also rescues a young Mexican girl in danger and Boyd and the girl soon become romantically attached. Billy and Boyd continue to try and get back the horses and cross paths with a one-armed ranch boss. After Billy accidentally breaks the boss’s back, the boss’s men severely wound Boyd who only just manages to escape but has now become a hero. However, when he is better, he and the Mexican girl leave without telling Billy.

After drifting around a while, including a failed attempt to join the army, Billy goes back to Mexico in search of his brother but all he finds are his bones. After further trials and tribulations, he brings them back to New Mexico where he buries them.

Of course, as with his previous books, a simple recounting of the plot cannot even vaguely begin to illustrate the power of McCarthy’s novel, whether it is the wonderful portraits of Billy and Boyd and the harsh but beautiful landscape they are confronted with or the poignant scenes he peppers his story with. Like his other novels, reading his story is like reading a fable, a dream even, which we can see before our eyes, with strange, unreal figures appearing and disappearing before our eyes. He is quite simply the best U.S. writer writing at the beginning of the twentieth-first century.

Publishing history

First published 1994 by Knopf