Summary and book reviews of Cities of The Plain by Cormac McCarthy

Cities of The Plain

Border Trilogy, Volume 3

by Cormac McCarthy

Cities of The Plain
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  • First Published:
    May 1999, 292 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 1999, 292 pages

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Book Summary

A landmark of our literature and times, an epic that reaches from tales of the old west, the world past, into the new millennium, the world to come. This is the final volume of the trilogy.

In this final volume of The Border Trilogy, two men marked by the boyhood adventures of All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing now stand together, in the still point between their vivid pasts and uncertain futures, to confront a country changing or already changed beyond recognition.

In the fall of 1952, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham--nine years apart in age, yet with a kinship greater than perhaps they know--are cowboys on a New Mexico ranch encroached upon from the north, at Alamogordo, by the military. To the south, always on the horizon are the mountains of Mexico, looming over El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and all the cities of the plain.

Bound by nature to horses and cattle and range, these two discover that ranchlife domesticity is compromised, for them and the men they work with, by a geometry of loss afflicting old and young alike, those who have survived it and anyone about to try. And what draws one of them across the border again and again, what would bind "those disparate but fragile worlds," is a girl seized by ill fortune, and a love as dangerous as it is inevitable.

This story of friendship and passion is enfolded in a narrative replete with character and place and event--a blind musician, a marauding pack of dogs, curio shops and ancient petroglyphs, a precocious shoe-shine boy, trail drives from the century before, midnight on the highway--and with landforms and wildlife and horses and men, most of all men and the women they love and mourn, men and their persistence and memories and dreams.

With the terrible beauty of Cities of the Plain--with its magisterial prose, humor both wry and out-right, fierce conviction and unwavering humanity--Cormac McCarthy has completed a landmark of our literature and times, an epic that reaches from tales of the old west, the world past, into the new millennium, the world to come.

Late that night lying in his bunk in the dark he heard the kitchen door close and heard the screendoor close after it. He lay there. Then he sat and swung his feet to the floor and got his boots and his jeans and pulled them on and put on his hat and walked out. The moon was almost full and it was cold and late and no smoke rose from the kitchen chimney. Mr Johnson was sitting on the back stoop in his duckingcoat smoking a cigarette. He looked up at John Grady and nodded. John Grady sat on the stoop beside him. What are you doin' out here without your hat? he said.

I don't know.

You all right?

Yeah. I'm all right. Sometimes you miss bein' outside at night. You want a cigarette?

No thanks.

Could you not sleep either?

No sir. I guess not.

How's them new horses?

I think he done all right.

Them was some boogerish colts I seen penned up in the corral.

I think he's goin' to sell off some of them.

Horsetradin', the old man said...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Cormac McCarthy's magnificent novel Cities of the Plain and his widely acclaimed Border Trilogy--a modern classic that began with All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, and has been compared with the great works of Faulkner, Melville, and Hemingway. Although Cities of the Plain is the third volume in the Trilogy, it stands alone as a stunning work of literature in its own right. We hope that this guide will provide you with new ways of looking at, and talking about, the many themes and ideas that coalesce so beautifully in this darkly beautiful elegy for the American frontier.


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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal - Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

There is much good writing in ...Cities of the Plain, but its twisted narrative and mystical bent may make it hard going for some readers.... Mr. McCarthy has a painter's eye for detail, and when he describes moments where men and nature meet, the scenes are riveting.... Because he pays such attention to detail, many moments remain convincing long after the book is finished.

Publishers Weekly

Devoted McCarthy readers will know not to expect any neat or dramatic resolution in Cities of the Plain, for the author is more of a poet than a novelist, more interested in wedding language to experience in successive moments than in building and setting afloat some narrative ark.....There is not much solace in McCarthy-land; there is only the triumph of prose, endlessly renewed, forever in search of a closure it will not find save in silence.

Kirkus Reviews

Once again, McCarthy offers an unflinching depiction of the hard lives and complex fates of men ripped loose from the moorings of home and family, pursuing destinies that seem imposed upon them by indifferent external forces..... Judged, as it must be, in the context of its brother novels, Cities of the Plain is nonetheless, flaws and all, an essential component of a contemporary masterpiece.

Library Journal

McCarthy's prose is mesmerizing, and his descriptions of the Southwest and the vanishing cowboy lifestyle are superb. This work is a strong and satisfying conclusion to a magisterial series, but it is probably advisable to read this installment in its proper sequence. Libraries will want all three volumes, which make up one of the great literary works of the decade.

Reader Reviews

Suzanne G.

#3
Here is the third in the Border Trilogy, but the second is not available to review. The Crossing (#2) is rated 4 by me. The book is as melancholy as the other two. Emotional and violent, Cities of the Plain was one I couldn’t put down. But there is ...   Read More

Evelyn Juarez

It's a really good book. Really interesting to read and to do a project on it. A right book for historical events.

sarah

Cormac McCarthy is an amazing writer. I loved every moment of the boder trilogy. With the exception of the violence in the novels. John Grady Cole and Billy are the most real characters I have ever come across in writing.

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