Cities of the Plain
|Cities of the Plain|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Publication date||May 12, 1998|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Classification||PS3563.C337 C58 1998|
|Preceded by||The Crossing|
The finale of McCarthy's Western trilogy – preceded by All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing – takes place, like the first two novels, on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. The novel unites John Grady Cole, the protagonist of the trilogy's first book, with Billy Parham, another young cowboy, who is the protagonist in The Crossing. Billy is nine years older than John Grady, now 19. Parham and Cole have formed a brotherly friendship as the novel opens.
The story opens in 1952. John Grady and Billy work together on a cattle ranch south of Alamogordo, New Mexico, not far from the border cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The ranch's owners are kind, but face an uncertain future in a dying industry. Recently devastated by drought, cattle ranches around El Paso are struggling, and may be claimed by the Department of Defense to become military areas through eminent domain. Though the cowboys barely make a living, John Grady and Billy love life on the open range, and John Grady - as detailed in "All the Pretty Horses" - is a master at training horses.
During a visit to a brothel in Juárez, John Grady falls in love with a young, epileptic prostitute, Magdalena. The couple plans to marry and live in the U.S., and John Grady renovates an abandoned cabin, turning it into a home. But Magdalena's brothel is run by Eduardo, a formidable adversary also in love with the young girl. Billy attempts to dissuade John Grady, but feels obligated to help the couple.
Eduardo's sidekick, Tiburcio, murders Magdalena by cutting her throat after she steals away from the brothel to meet John Grady at a crossing of the Rio Grande and leave Mexico. After John Grady finds her body in the morgue, he faces Eduardo in a knife fight reminiscent of his prison showdown in All the Pretty Horses. Though John Grady kills Eduardo, he is mortally wounded in the fight. He survives long enough to contact Billy, who hurries to comfort him before his death.
After John Grady's death, a short epilogue—not unlike the conclusion of Blood Meridian—details the next several decades of Billy's life in a few pages. After drifting across the Southwest for many years working ranches and living in hotels, Billy, homeless, takes shelter beneath a highway underpass. There, he meets a mysterious man who tells him about a convoluted dream. Though the man denies it, Billy suspects that he is Death. However, Billy survives the meeting with the man and finds shelter and a new life with a family who takes him in.
Cities of the Plain was favorably reviewed in the New York Times, though the reviewer criticized McCarthy's violent prose and arcane language: "One begins to miss the simple evocation of cowboy life that is so stirring in the earlier novels."
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