Cities of the Plain: A Novel

by Cormac McCarthy

Hardcover, 1998

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (1998), Edition: 1st, 304 pages


A Texas cowboy falls in love with a Mexican prostitute, only to discover he has a rival, her pimp. The pimp refuses to let her go because he will lose money and the stage is set for a violent confrontation.

Media reviews

McCarthy greift in diesem Buch, das ebenso wie "All die schönen Pferde" und "Grenzgänger" als eigenständiges Werk gelesen werden kann und als solches besteht, einige bekannte Motive auf. Das Jungenpaar, hier ein paar Jahre älter, die unmögliche, aufgrund der Grenzen zwischen den Kulturen nicht
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realisierbare Liebe, das Wolfthema aus "Grenzgänger", das hier in Form einer Hundemeute und eines einsamen Welpen variiert wird, und natürlich Mexiko und die Pferde. Doch "Land der Freien" ist melancholischer als seine Vorgänger, es ist introvertierter, beschäftigt sich weit mehr mit seinen Protagonisten, weniger mit dem Land, den Tieren, den Abenteuern. Anfangs ist man noch ein wenig skeptisch, da allein die exakten und kenntnisreichen Beschreibungen von Pflanzen, Tieren, Landschaft und Tätigkeiten noch keinen großen Roman ausmachen. Doch unmerklich baut McCarthy die Dramatik des Buches auf, streut kleine Symbole, die unausweichlich auf das Kommende hinweisen und weist den Personen mehr und mehr ihren Platz im Geschehen zu. Das alles schafft eine Atmosphäre, die den Leser beruhigt, denn nun befindet er sich auf gewohntem literarischen Gebiet, in einer sprachlich und thematisch vertrauten Umgebung: in McCarthy-County.
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That brief moment between a culture's existence and extinction -- this is the border that McCarthy's characters keep crossing and recrossing, and the one story, as he's forever writing, that contains all others.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lriley
The heroes of the two previous novels in Cormac McCarthy's border trilogy return together in this one. John Grady Cole (from All the pretty horses) is still a young man whereas Billy Parham (The Crossing) is somewhat older--both working on a ranch near the New Mexico-Mexico border near the border
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cities of El Paso and Ciudad Jaurez.

The story's main thread is developed around Cole's falling in love with a teenage Mexican prostitute--Magdalena and his attempting to bring her back over the border to marry her. Her Mexican brothel keepers/protectors have much different ideas about someone(thing) they consider their property. As in the previous two novels of this trilogy the novels denouement revolves around the clash between two different cultures living right on each others doorsteps. John recruits Billy Parham to act as a kind of go between between himself and the brothelkeepers (Eduardo and Tiburcio) but they're only interested in discouraging this liason. John then turns to an older Mexican he's met--a blind man but he cannot help him. He is in love though and cannot be stopped from the course he is on which only leads us to the books tragic and bloody climax.

Though not quite as good as The Crossing--this is a simpler and shorter story and it plays to McCarthy's strengths as a writer. A little less concentrated in style than other works of his--the prose is clearer and more lucid. McCarthy is very economical in his dialogue and is one if not just about the best writer of action scenes in the United States today. Many writers would have turned this kind of material into a tearjerker but McCarthy maintains a very tight control over his story and the vision of where to go with it. The whole series is very enjoyable and well worth reading --at least IMO and I expect that within the next couple of years I may have read all his books. I look very much forward to his next.
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LibraryThing member jeanned
It's 1952 and Mac's ranch has been purchased by the US Government. Jack Grady Cole and Billy Parham, two young cowboys who have grown up on the US-Mexican border (origin stories in [All the Pretty Horses] and [The Crossing]), face the disappearance of their way of life.

McCarthy tells us what these
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characters do, what they say, but not what they think. The rhythm of their deeds and speech entwines with the cadence of McCarthy's language, irrevocably leading to what must come next: "Each event is revealed to us only at the surrender of every alternate course." The best description I can give you of this NY Times Notable Book of 1998 is to call it a Literary Shakesperean American Western Tragic Romance. And say that I rate it at 10 out of 10 stars.
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LibraryThing member presto
he concluding part in the Border Trilogy brings together the main character from each of the preceding novels, John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses, and Billy Parham from The Crossing. It is set after the war, John Grady is nineteen and Billy some ten years older, they are working together on
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a ranch at a time when the traditional life of the cowboy is threatened.

This book is very much about the friendship between these two young men, a friendship closer perhaps than they realise, with Billy seeing himself very much as looking out for John Grady. The story centres around their life on the ranch and John Grady's ill-advised love for a young prostitute. We get to know also their co-workers on the ranch, and along the way there are little vignettes involving additional characters very much in the vein of the other books in the Trilogy.

Cities of the Plain is every bit as good as the preceding books, beautifully written the sparse prose yet evokes the setting and the life of these men in a time of change. It is a most enjoyable read, there is humour, but is also heart-warming and at times heart-rending, deep in meaning; a worthy conclusion to a superb Trilogy.
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LibraryThing member jjtyler
It's been a while since I've read good fiction, and it seems I've read some stinkers of late.

But I went back to McCarthy and was welcomed back to his violent Texas border town world with open arms.

John Grady and Billy Parham were each the focus in their respective narratives about them, The
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Crossing and All The Pretty Horses, and here's where they story ends, or what comes to be of these two cowboys.

They're together on a ranch, working as hands, and John Grady falls in love with a young Mexican prostitute, and this sets the back drop of what happens in the novel.

It's rare to laugh out loud at a book, but I did this several times while reading the exchanges between the two main characters and the other ranch hands. There' s a love between them, for what they do and what they are, and you can see in the wording.

As much as I laughed at the dialogue, these books are never an easy pill to swallow with Cormac, as he takes you to places you don't want to go, and people die who you don't want to die. But isn't that a way to show how powerful his writing is?

In other stories, in most pop fiction, I'm not going to lose sleep over who is killed and who is let to live, but McCarthy connects you with his characters, with their flesh, weaknesses and flaws, and also with their more honorable sides. He makes you give a hang.

John Grady Cole wanted to take a girl who was in trouble, and give her a good life, not even mentioning that he loved her, and that is such a good sentiment and a powerful gesture. Everyone was against it but her and him, and he goes for it anyway.

This wasn't my favorite out of the Border trilogy. Most would pick All The Pretty Horses, but my heart places The Crossing above the rest.

That being said, this is a great read, and I highly recommend picking it up if you are a fan of modern day Westerns (set in the 30's or 40's), or if you are a fan of McCarthy.
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LibraryThing member Periodista
Not as absorbing as The Crossing, which has a magical realism quality but probably too much Spanish for anyone that doesn't have a little hs Spanish. The Spanish here is sparse and very basic.

It is a slow start, which must put off many readers new to McCarthy or the trilogy. (My advice: you can
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skim over the dog-hunting section.) However, once I got to the part where The Girl/ hooker with the heart of gold was walking toward her fate, I couldn't stop/had to keep stopping, if you get my drift. McCarthy's style is so understated, I didn't know he had it in him.

Female characters are not McCarthy's strong suit, I gather after reading three of his novels. Yes, most depictions of Third World prostitutes by male novelists bear no semblance to reality but there are far more ridiculous ones than this one. At least in a dream-like thought of John Grady's we get an idea of how she reached this point. All too similar to the route so many in Thailand follow (although they're not going to end up servicing the high-end johns, not for long). You're never going to see that in Graham Greene's dusky wet dreams. That being said, every woman in a locked brothel/indentured situation has a buy-out price. This woman in particular does not have much of a shelf life. Eduardo is supposed to be "in love" with her? Then he wouldn't be renting her out. He wouldn't marry her; he'd keep her on the side. He has to be married already, FWIW.

It's nitpicky but ... why was this rigamarole, getting a green card, etc. necessary? Why trust so many intermediaries? John Grady Cole has been seeing her, communicates the plan to her ...why doesn't he, possibly with Billy, just escort her personally across? It seems that the plan was to take her across the river at an unofficial crossing regardless. She could pass for Socorro's grandchild or whatever. Would a card be necessary for a wedding? I just don't buy it. Which of these Americans has any official id?

Eduardo: "This is what had brought you here and will always bring you here. Your kind cannot bear that the world be ordinary. That it contains nothing save what stands before one. But the Mexican world is a world of adornment only and underneath it is very plain indeed ...And we will devour you, my friend. You and all your pale empire."
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LibraryThing member Libra500
Beautiful, and heartbreaking.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Whew. Read the trilogy over a span of three or four days. What a ride.

Beautiful writing as always. This one has more philosophical discourse on life and death, much more so than the other two. A tragic story, but one which is cathartic and oddly dignifying.
LibraryThing member readyreader
The last of the trilogy and the one I enjoyed the most, perhaps because of the continuation of the characters from Book one and Book two. Violent and sad ending, but it was a compelling read for me. A look back at a bygone era in our country that was really short-lived, but certainly holds our
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imagination and fascination still today. The sections in which characters would philosophize and moralize became a little tedious. I feel the story and the character development should express what the author is trying to express more than characters invented for his voice. Perhaps I am missing the point...but all in all, I like the series.
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LibraryThing member danlai
Cormac McCarthy is one of the most depressing authors I have ever read, but he’s also one of my favorites, simply because he writes some of the most beautiful imagery out there. The first two books in the trilogy, All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, are two of my favorite books, so I was very
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excited to read this.

Cormac McCarthy is a poet that has simply never bothered to write poetry. Cities of the Plain is no exception for McCarthy’s habits, although we see this to a lesser extent than we do in the other books of the trilogy, which is slightly disappointing. The protagonists of the first two books are now friends, and the story is set in motion when John Grady Cole falls in love with a Mexican prostitute.

Cities of the Plain is somewhat lacking when compared with the rest of the trilogy. All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing are epics, while Cities of the Plain is calmer. It makes sense because the characters are older, but this book is just not as hard-hitting as the other two. All the Pretty Horses was like learning something that I never wished to learn, and The Crossing was like being gutted. This book, while still quite good, didn’t really live up to my expectations. And the epilogue, a thirty page discussion about a homeless man’s dreams, was confusing and out of place. This is definitely a book I need to reread, because I trust Cormac McCarthy’s creative judgments enough not to just write it off.
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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
The Border Trilogy really took it out of me. Cities of the Plain is more a meditation on the state of men who are caught between or unwilling to adapt to the modern world and its left me with a heavy heart. The tone of Cities of the Plain is definitely in line with All the Pretty Horses and The
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Crossing and it is a worthy finale. I was surprised at the amount of dialogue, it's like McCarthy was saving it all for this book, and the themes the author develops in No Country for Old Men and The Road are at the forefront of this novel, the imagery that struck me the most was the constant juxtaposition of the neon lights of Juarez and the ancient cave paintings out in the desert. I would have liked a bit more development between John Grady and Billy to ground the reader in their friendship rather than making it a foregone conclusion. If you've made it this far in the Border Trilogy don't stop now, although if you have made it this far I'd say you're liable to read this book regardless of reviews.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
Cormac McCarthy ties in All the Pretty Horses with The Crossing through the intersections of John Cole Grady and Billy Parham through this deeply moving and stirring examination of the west and the human heart. I am really glad I read the entire trilogy.
LibraryThing member ProfH
I resisted opening the finale of this spectacular trilogy out of fear that it would disappoint. Or maybe I didn’t want to see these beloved characters come to a definitive conclusion. Once I began it was impossible to stop. Cities is one of the writer’s best in a long catalogue of spectacular
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fiction. This novel has the benefit of a deep background for the protagonists of the earlier novels and the recurring motif of the boarder land, the transgression, the right way of doing something, the quality of horses, mystery, desire, the search for meaning, the question of value, the doubt in free will, and the end of a time are all revisited. In this work the author has refined these themes to become sharper than Eduardo’s switchblade.

The language of the characters and the description of the land reminds me how I feel in love with the southwest. I love this book.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Cormac McCarthy concludes his border trilogy about the west with a book that is spare and almost allegorical in its storytelling. All the Pretty Horses combined intensely lyrical prose with the laconic wit of its cowboy protagonists while its sequel, The Crossing, sent two young brothers on a quest
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that plunged them into the bloody maelstrom of Mexican politics. Cities of the Plain unites John Grady Cole with his older "buddy" Billy Parham, and centers on a doomed relationship between John Grady and a Mexican prostitute. It is notable for its shockingly brutal feral dog-roping scene, its coruscating, vivid depiction the lost world of small horse-ranch life in the American southwest, and also for its fabular epilogue, an extended meditation on the nature of narrative and the forms of human destiny.

With Cities of the Plain the dreams have receded, the young men Billy and John Grady are older and their journeys have goals. This is a book that is bleaker in the telling even as the romanticism of John Grady Cole provided significant interest for this reader. The time is 1952, the place a cattle ranch in New Mexico. The West is changing as suggested by a brief interchange between John Grady and Billy early in the novel:

"What are you readin? Destry." (p 59)

Destry Rides Again by Max Brand is a classic example of the "myth of the old West". This is the life that is fading in the early 1950's and the question is will our heroes adapt or rebel against the inevitability of change. The change is not without difficulty and there are the ghosts of the past which they face as depicted in the following passage:
"They sat against a rock bluff high in the Franklins with a fire before them that heeled in the wind and their figures cast up upon the rocks behind them enshadowed the petroglyphs carved there by other hunters a thousand years before." (p 87)

Shadowed by ghosts of the past and chastened but not defeated by their youthful misadventures, John Grady Cole of All the Pretty Horses and Billy Parham of The Crossing have become blood brothers of a sort, clinging stubbornly to a vanishing way of life. With the U.S. Army proposing to turn their employer's ranch into a military base, the two fantasize about owning a little spread in the mountains, where they might run a few cattle and hunt their own meat. But when John Grady falls in love with a teenage prostitute in a brothel called "White Lake" across the Rio Grande, his desires collide with powers reminiscent of his those he encountered in All the Pretty Horses.

''There's a son of a bitch owns her outright that I guarangoddamntee you will kill you graveyard dead if you mess with him,'' Billy warns him. ''Son, aint there no girls on this side of the damn river?''
Alas, for John Grady there are none that can compare with Magdalena. He does not worry about Eduardo, her pimp, with whom he must deal if he is to have her and his stubborn idealism sets in motion a chain of events that cannot be avoided. In fact, the question of one's destiny is present throughout this final part to the trilogy. Before the ultimate scenes of the novel there is a telling exchange between Billy and John Grady.

"John Grady nodded. What would you do if you coundnt be a cowboy?
I dont know. I reckon I'd think of somethin. You?
I dont know what it would be I'd think of.
Well we may all have to think of somethin." (p 217)

Combine McCarthy's two previous novels with this somber tome and you have a masterpiece of contemporary fiction and a worthy contribution to the literature of the West. All three are works of a master story-teller, an author who speculates (some might say pontificates) on the nature of stories. So I will end with one moment of speculation about stories among many that I encountered during my journey through the trilogy:

"These dreams reveal the world also, he said. We wake remembering the events of which they are composed while often the narrative is fugitive and difficult to recall. Yet it is the narrative that is the life of the dream while the events themselves are often interchangeable. The events of the waking world on the other hand are forced upon us and the narrative is the unguessed axis along which they must be strung. It falls to us to weigh and sort and order these events. It is we who assemble them into the story which is us. Each man is the bard of his own existence." (p 283)
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
This is the third book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. While the first two, All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, can be read in either order, this one should come last. It brings together the protagonists of the first two novels, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham.

It is set in the early 1950’s
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in the plains around El Paso, Texas and across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The plot revolves around John Grady’s romantic interest in Magdalena, a sixteen-year-old Mexican prostitute. Nineteen-year-old John Grady is devoted to Magdalena to the point of obsession. He exhibits a strong-willed personality and the brashness of youth. Billy and ranch owner Mac serve as his mentors.

It is written in McCarthy’s signature style with short, direct dialogue. He realistically portrays the Southwestern desert, and the setting becomes, essentially, another character. I particularly like the indelible connection McCarthy establishes between the land and the people who traverse it. Themes include the inevitability of fate and good vs. evil. I doubt anyone that has read McCarthy would expect anything cheery, and this one is no exception. I am glad I read the trilogy. All three books are solid.
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LibraryThing member NatalieRiley
Years ago, I was browsing in a used bookstore with my husband. He discovered this copy of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Cities of the Plain. He quickly realized it’s a first edition and was on sale for $5. At the time, I had no interest in reading what I perceived a western novel and wasn’t
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inclined to purchase it even though I was well aware of Cormac McCarthy’s reputation. My husband enabled my love for collecting books and encouraged me to buy it. He was better at appreciating how special this book is. He thought it would be nice to own and I didn’t need much convincing. I love the red colored edges on the top of the book and I like the cover image.

Cities of the Plain is the final installment of The Border Trilogy. I read the first book, All The Pretty Horses about a year ago and the second book, The Crossing a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed The Crossing so much, I wanted to finish the trilogy sooner rather than later. I tend to spread out series of books and seldom read them this closely together. Why? I have no sensible idea. Maybe it’s to make the experience last longer? To procrastinate the finality?

John Grady Cole and Billy Parham exist together in this final story, working on a ranch in New Mexico. 1952, the two young men are enjoying life on the ranch. It’s a rather simple life, but yet daily hard work. They realize the world is changing and their lifestyle is vanishing. John Grady falls in love with a young Mexican girl working as a prostitute. He enlists Billy’s help to free her from her pimp, which is extremely complicated and dangerous. Meanwhile, there are many interesting characters introduced throughout the story: a blind musician, a pack of dogs, fellow ranch workers, and a clever shoe shine boy.

Cities of the Plain left me feeling much the same emotions as The Crossing. There are moments of heart wrenching despair and utter sadness. McCarthy knows how to build hope for the reader, but I wasn’t fooled this time. I knew any moments of joy or excitement were going to be met with devastating grief. And still, I loved McCarthy’s writing and talent to create authentic characters. I am a huge fan of his sarcastic humor. Only McCarthy can make me laugh in the middle of an argument or stressful event.

I loved John Grady Cole and Billy Parham. They are two down to earth cowboys I am grateful to have met and will miss. I suppose they will come to mind the next time I see a question about which characters you would like to have over for dinner. I think they would be satisfied with just about any measly meal I could create. Or, I could take them out to a Mexican restaurant.

Even though I own a beautiful hard cover copy of this book, I listened to the audiobook I acquired from Audible. Frank Muller’s narration was exceptional. It’s interesting how sometimes I will be browsing my Audible wishlist and notice I can add some audiobooks directly to my library as part of my membership. That’s how I got my hands on this audiobook.

I have photos and additional information that I'm unable to include here. It can all be found on my blog, in the link below.
A Book And A Dog
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Dublin Literary Award (Shortlist — 2000)




0679423907 / 9780679423904
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