It's hard to imagine another writer whose every utterance could be more profound a revelation of truth of the cruel and whimsical nature of life. McCarthy just gets it and you have to admire his ability to strip away the fluff, the pleasantries and varnish we give to life to make it bearable and stave off despair. It's depressing, but I don't think McCarthy intends it to be. Perhaps it's just that you need to let go of some comforting illusions about the way the world is before you can find a greater and more wholesome peace with it. Certainly this novel is full of people who've had everything and more taken from them before finding a measure of stoic resolve. In any case, he leaves you feeling like you haven't spent nearly enough time thinking about life.
The Crossing centers on young Billy Parham, and like All the Pretty Horses, his coming of age story is a harsh one. The Crossing is more than the thematic sequel of Horses. Billy's story is John Grady Cole's story with surprisingly little variation. His journey begins just as inexplicably the crossing of that old border is a revelation of just how much even those with very little still have left to lose. Billy crosses that border three times, each time with a purpose that seems impossible to fulfill. In the beginning, the Parhams are having wolf trouble and Billy's hunt for the wolf takes on tones of a right of passage. Killing the animal that threatens his family's livelihood is something that must be done, but when it comes right down to it, Billy finds a deeper more mysterious call, and without really thinking about it, finds himself on the road to Mexico to return the beast to her native land. It is a task of reparation and a quest of honor that only a young boy rightly understands in his own naive and limited view of the world. Unlike John Grady Cole, Billy's quest is undertaken almost without will. In his mind, he simply must take the wolf back. And so it goes with each of the three quests he sets for himself. If the first quest is to make amends and complete a lofty and noble deed, the second is much more practical (if equally unfeasible): the recovery of lost patrimony. This time with brother in tow, Billy seeks justice and to reclaim what is rightfully his. The third quest is an attempt to reconcile the past and claim mastery over his future destiny. In each, Billy finds something altogether different from what he's looking for, but equally profound and valuable.
McCarthy's prose shines brighter than ever in this second volume of the Border Trilogy. His setting of choice compliments his language and theme. There is something solitary, lonesome and inherently unjust about the expanses of the Old West that lend its environs to introspection. A broken sluice gate or bar ditch in a dried out, deserted desert town can separate past from future, boyhood from manhood, hope from despair and honor from shame. In any case, in the emptiness of the vast American-Mexican desert, any demarcation carries more than its usual significance. This is a novel of boundaries and limits and more importantly, the futility of trying to contain the world with words or singular lines of thought and theology. It's meditative, thoughtful and meanders through the life-lessons of road weary gypsies, faded revolutionaries, and young mothers who've long outlived their children and their innocence. This menagerie of characters serve as a springboard for Billy's own complicated views of the world. At times, the message is contradictory, but nowhere is it untrue.
And upon proofreading this review, I've proven McCarthy's point about the inadequacy and emptiness of words. Just read the book. McCarthy's a much smarter man than I am and makes the point a lot better.