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There are a few books that you recognize as masterpieces the first time you read them.  They transcend the enjoyable and cross into the sublime.  All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy is one of those books.  It is also the first book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.  It’s sequel is The Crossing, which I finished two days ago.  I was pleased to discover that The Crossing lives up to the promise of its predecessor and is also highly deserving of the title of masterpiece.

The Crossing is set just prior to World War II in along the border between Old and New Mexico.  Billy Parham is a sixteen-year old cowboy working alongside his father and younger brother on their New Mexico homestead.  A she-wolf has been ravaging the local cattle and the Parhams set about trapping it.  Billy captures the wolf in a trap but is inspired to return it to the mountains in Mexico from whence it came rather than kill it for its pelt.  This journey begins a tragic cycle in Billy’s life.  Despite his best efforts, the wolf is killed before he is able to return it to the mountains.  Heartbroken but determined, Billy eventually buries the wolf in the mountains.

Billy returns home after his long journey to find that his parents have been murdered and their horses stolen.  He finds his younger brother Boyd staying with a foster family and the two set out on another journey to Mexico, this time in search of their lost horses.  Along the way they rescue a young girl, who forges a close bond with Boyd.  The brothers eventually find the horses, but Boyd is shot in the chest during their attempt to reclaim them.  Boyd miraculously survives his wound but runs off with the girl after his recovery.  Billy returns to America alone.

Billy returns to Mexico soon after in an effort to locate Boyd.  He learns that Boyd has been killed.  Billy sets out to find his brother’s grave and return his body to their homeland.  Despite band of highwaymen that molest Boyd’s remains and stab Billy’s horse in the chest, Billy makes it back to America and buries Boyd.  As the novel closes, Billy meets a wounded and disfigured dog seeking shelter and comfort.  Despite his previous attachment to the wolf and his history of helping the less fortunate, Billy chases away the dog.  Recognizing this change in himself, he tries and fails to find the distressed canine.  As he comes to understand how much he has lost in his various border crossings, Billy hangs his head and weeps.

This book is beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking.  Although similar to All the Pretty Horses in its coming-of-age theme, The Crossing is much more depressing.  Billy comes by his understanding of the real world in a brutal fashion, losing everyone dear to him through the course of the novel.  The third novel features Billy and John Grady Cole together, and I cannot wait to read it.

The Current Count

15 Read, 85 To Go