Cities of the Plain (novel)

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Cities of the Plain
Cities of the Plain Cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorCormac McCarthy
CountryUnited States
SeriesBorder Trilogy
GenreWestern novel
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
May 12, 1998
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages304 pp
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3563.C337 C58 1998
Preceded byThe Crossing 

Cities of the Plain is the final volume of American novelist Cormac McCarthy's "Border Trilogy", published in 1998. The title is a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29).

Plot summary[edit]

The story opens in 1952. John Grady Cole (the protagonist of All the Pretty Horses) and Billy Parham (the protagonist of The Crossing) 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, through eminent domain, to become military areas. 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. Billy is an excellent tracker.

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 John Grady before his death.

After John Grady's death, a short epilogue—not unlike the conclusion of Blood Meridian (1985)—details, in a few pages, the next several decades of Billy's life. 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 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, observing: "One begins to miss the simple evocation of cowboy life that is so stirring in the earlier novels."[1]

Film adaptation[edit]

A film adaptation, directed by Andrew Dominik and starring James Franco, has been stated to be in development, but as of 2018 these plans appear to have fallen through.[2][3]


  1. ^ "Review of Cities of the Plain". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Dawson, Nick (2008-01-28). "Filmmaker Magazine: Web Exclusives". LAST MAN STANDING.
  3. ^ Levy, Emmanuel (2008). "Interview – Assassination of Jesse James: Andrew Dominik". Archived from the original on 2014-05-02.

External links[edit]