The Crossing

by Cormac McCarthy

Hardcover, 1994

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (1994), Edition: 1st, 425 pages


In The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy fulfills the promise of All the Pretty Horses and at the same time give us a work that is darker and more visionary, a novel with the unstoppable momentum of a classic western and the elegaic power of a lost American myth. In the late 1930s, sixteen-year-old Billy Parham captures a she-wolf that has been marauding his family's ranch. But instead of killing it, he decides to take it back to the mountains of Mexico. With that crossing, he begins an arduous and often dreamlike journey into a country where men meet ghosts and violence strikes as suddenly as heat-lightning--a world where there is no order "save that which death has put there." An essential novel by any measure, The Crossing is luminous and appalling, a book that touches, stops, and starts the heart and mind at once.… (more)

Media reviews

Mr. McCarthy, because he is interested in the mythic shape of lives, has always been interested in the young and the old or, if not the old, then those who have already performed some act so deep in their natures (often horrific, though not always) that it forecloses the idea of possibility.
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"Doomed enterprises," Mr. McCarthy's narrator remarks, "divide lives forever into the then and the now." So "The Crossing" is full of encounters between the young boys, who look so much like the pure arc of possibility, and the old they meet on the road, all of whom seem impelled, as if innocence were one of the vacuums that nature abhors, to tell them their stories, or prophesy, or give them advice.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member jmor
In a good book the author’s voice becomes clear in the first few pages and readers get an immediate sense of the world in which the coming story takes place. The second paragraph of The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy opens with the main character, Billy, waking to the sound of wolves in the hills
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near his home. He figures they will come down to the plains in the snow “to run the antelope in the moonlight.”

So he goes into the winter night and crawls to the edge of a broad valley.

“They were running on the plain harrying the antelope and the antelope moved like phantoms in the snow and circled and wheeled and the dry powder blew about them in the cold moonlight and their breath smoked palely in the cold as if they burned with some inner fire and the wolves twisted and turned and leapt in a silence such that they seemed of another world entire. They moved down the valley and turned and moved far out on the plain until they were the smallest of figures in that dim whiteness and then they disappeared.”

Already the untamed and inexplicable are upon us. Already you can hear echoes of William Faulkner in the voice of a new master stylist. McCarthy’s use of language is the reason I started reading this book and the reason I stayed with it despite some serious disappointments in the story he tells.

McCarthy’s writing style swings from unadorned sentences into dense tangles of abstract thought. You find whole paragraphs describing in plain language and in great detail simple actions of no apparent importance such as a man lighting a cigarette or a horse drinking water.

At one point he takes 11 pages to describe a doctor cleaning and dressing a bullet wound in Billy’s brother Boyd. In this example, the long description adds to the suspense of not knowing if Boyd will survive, but I suspect McCarthy’s usual purpose is to rivet our attention on detail, to make each scene intensely visual.

The entire novel is intensely visual. There’s no interior; no description of what a person is thinking at any given moment. We can only guess at what they’re thinking from watching what they do or listening to their stories.

McCarthy takes chances with his writing. Some of it goes too far and verges on silly. Instead of saying the boy looked into the wolf’s ear, McCarthy writes: “He studied the veined and velvet grotto into which the audible world poured.”

Some of it, though, gives me a rush of pleasure. It’s over the top writing. Here’s his description of Boyd staring into a campfire shortly after the brothers ride into Mexico to recover horses stolen from their murdered parents.

“He looked up. His pale hair looked white. He looked fourteen going on some age that never was. He looked as if he’d been sitting there and God had made the trees and rocks around him.”

One moment you’re reading simple descriptions and the next you’re swept into long sentences of cosmic truth beyond reckoning:

“He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never to be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.”

To me, though, the story doesn’t quite live up to the writing. The book is rich in memorable encounters, suspenseful and funny in places, punctuated with bursts of action, but it’s also maddeningly aimless. Billy rides into Mexico. He rides into a town. He rides on. He meets an old man. He rides on. He crosses the border back into America. He returns to Mexico. He meets a woman. He meets some gypsies. He leaves Mexico.

I almost gave up at the point where Billy wakes up one morning and discovers Boyd has left with a girl they had rescued. He left without saying good-bye, without leaving a note, without saying where he was going or for how long. He just left, exactly as Billy did when he rode into Mexico without telling his family.

Is Billy angry? Hurt? Perturbed? We don’t know. The boys talk very little and rarely about how they feel. They are laconic to the point of caricature. Billy and Boyd have many admirable qualities, but to a fanciful degree. They are stoic, taciturn, courteous, honorable, brave and self-reliant, little John Waynes 14 and 17 years old who ride into a foreign country expecting somehow to find and retrieve six horses that someone committed murder to steal.

I missed a lot of meaning in The Crossing, in part because of my limitations as a reader, but also because of all the Mexican terminology and Spanish dialogue McCarthy insists on using without translation. The meaning can usually be guessed, but it’s distracting.

The Crossing appears to be a novel that must be read a second time to be fully appreciated. Not this reader, though, because the endless, impossible quests wearied me. I discovered while dipping into the book to write this essay that I get more enjoyment out of reading episodes in isolation. I come to the scenes fresh, unconcerned about meaning or what comes next. I am able to let the writing envelop me. I see what McCarthy saw so vividly when he wrote the scenes and they are usually fascinating.
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LibraryThing member SanctiSpiritus
This is my third McCarthy novel. Cormac keeps astounding me with each page turned. This second installment of the Border trilogy is one of despair and sorrow. It is one of the most heart-wrenching tales I've ever seen upon a page. Once finished, I literally felt huge waves of melancholy all day. I
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sat and glared at the last page, mouth agape.
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LibraryThing member wrhazel
The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy is the second novel in the border crossing series (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain). It details various journeys by the main character and the protagonist, Billy Parham. It is called The Crossing because it literally depicts Parham crossing
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the border between the United States and Mexico. He crosses the border 3 times, and in those 3 crossings he has extensive, dangerous, long and arduous journeys. The book takes place in the late 1930’s, and the book depicts Parham when he is a 16 year old boy and growing up. Every time Parham crosses the border, he is attempting to accomplish a task, and his crossings take place over a number of years. The book takes on a much darker and more somber tone than the previous book, All the Pretty Horses, as Billy takes on a more personal journey in his search for self.
Our theme this quarter was the search for self. In All the Pretty Horses, Parham is constantly on a search for who he is, and what is his purpose. He is a boy at the start of the novel with only 16 years of age, and by the end of the novel he is 21, and has spent 5 years wandering the countryside of Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico. This book starts with Parham trying to take a she- wolf back into the mountains of Mexico. In this journey and all the other journeys Parahm embarks on, he goes attempting to accomplish a task. It is in this task he is attempting to find out his purpose, and who he is. This book is sad because towards the end of the novel, he just begins to realize more and more he does not know who he is, or what his purpose is. He feels though he failed in his goal. His search for self is long, arduous, and saddening. It is a perfect example of blind effort, and the reader feels all the pain Parham feels in his search for self.
I would recommend this novel if you have read All the Pretty Horses and enjoyed it. This book is longer, and is much more depressing and sad. The setting in the deserts of Mexico and Arizona is the same as in All the Pretty Horses and the appeal of the wild of Mexico is really intriguing. In summation, I would give this book about 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was not as good as All the Pretty Horses, but The Crossing in my opinion is yet another classic of American Literature and a search for self.
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LibraryThing member Periodista
He is amazing. The comparisons to Faulkner and Hemingway are apt but there's the Latino flavor too. I'm not just referring to the setting in Mexico or the copious use of Spanish.

(And I could understand almost all the Spanish! This would be a good novel to recommend to second semester Spanish
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students--a good motivator to learn more)

There's also the feeling of Latino literature. The way many LA writers tell a tale. The Mexican characters verge on the allegorical or the magical realist. I thought of how Fellini would film this--the caravan of actors, the opera singer bathing, the nameless girl barely escaping the gang of ladrones/rapists/murderers.

And the way the Mexican characters talk! Big themes, the meaning of life, God, civil war. Contrast this with the laconic (though colorfully idiomatic) language of the American characters. Or should I say the characters when in America?

Finally, very near the end, we get about a paragraph's work of self talk from Billy, told to an unsympathetic gringo who happens upon his campfire. What's that all about? How much has Billy learned?
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LibraryThing member lriley
The second book of McCarthy's border trilogy--The Crossing follows the peregrinations of one Billy Parham--a pre World War II teenager living on a ranch in rural New Mexico. Along with his father and his brother Boyd they are tracking a she-wolf which has strayed up from Mexico and is wreaking
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havoc on the various cattle ranches in their part of the world. Billy takes the lead in tracking the wolf upon himself and finally manages to catch her in a steel trap. Rather than shoot it though he makes a spur of the moment decision to take the wolf back to Mexico--where it came from. In the aftermath of this decision his life and that of his family will change irrevocably.

McCarthy is pretty much on top of his game in this one--meditating on the meaning of life and death in a strange and alien with a sometimes apocalyptic landscape filling out the background. Over the course of the book Billy Parham will find himself returning to Mexico twice more--both times the result of family catastrophes that leave him an orphan--and then all alone in the world. By its end there is a kindly of lonesome hardwon redemption for him--but whether it was worth the price he pays for it is very open to question.

I have read reviews that think that the first section about the wolf is maybe McCarthy's finest writing ever. I would not argue with that. There is a raw and understated emotional quality to McCarthy's prose here that is especially evident in that first part but also can be seen throughout the text. Combined with the epic Odyssey like plotline and the apocalyptic landscapes and the often existentialist/religious like meditations of many of those whom Billy meets along and converses with along his via crucis--that I found this to be an intriguing book throughout. Excellently written and well thought out and plotted. A minor warning though--oftentimes McCarthy has Billy conversing in spanish with other characters. Sometimes he hints at what is being said within the paragraph or in the next paragraph but not always. Having very rudimentary spanish reading skills I was able to pick up the gist about 90% of the time but it may bother some who do decide to read this.

In any case despite that I would highly recommend this book of his and would rate this along with Suttree as my favorite of his works.
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LibraryThing member presto
Set just before the Second World War, sixteen year old Billy Parham is living with his parents and younger brother on a ranch in New Mexico. The appearance of a wolf in the area captivates Billy's imagination, and when he eventually traps the animal, on an impulse he decides to take it back into
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Mexico from whence it came. However when he eventually returns to the family ranch it is not as he left it. He journeys into Mexico twice more, once with his younger brother, and then again at the age or twenty.

The Crossing, the second book in the Border Trilogy, is a gripping, and often moving account of a young boy's adventures and troubles. While filled with minute detail words are never wasted, and McCarthy's only use of punctuation is the full stop, and even that is used with economy. Billy's story is occasionally interspersed with the stories of others, such as that of the ageing blind man.

A lot of the dialogue is in Spanish, and there are no translations, but that does not seem to interfere with or hamper one's understanding. The Crossing is a most absorbing and memorable read.
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LibraryThing member joeltallman
A deeply symbolic, deeply moving meditation on men and frontiers and family and death and pride and spirit.
LibraryThing member sparksmom
At the time, I wasn't sure I was enjoying the book. I found it hard with the Spanish language, so I know I missed important parts of the plot. However over the year this book has stayed with me and I am keen to read the other 2. The writing was beautiful.
LibraryThing member alissamarie
Our hero wanders about the southwestern American countryside and crosses into Mexico several times, sleeps on the plains, waters the horses, and looks at the stars. But the pages and pages of tranquility are broken, suddenly and without warning, by violence and horrific sights. Probably better than
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"All the Pretty Horses", but certainly not easy to read.
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LibraryThing member danlai
Rip out my heart and soul and crush them, why don't you. I must be a masochist.
LibraryThing member she_climber
I wish I knew what propelled me to keep reading this book. If I had to take a guess I would go with the language and prose. It's a beautiful, dark, haunting story but the plot was so thin. I found it more to be a series of short stories as Billy wound his way around the Mexican countryside.

All the
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Spanish conversation got really old, very quickly. I know a bit of Spanish so often I would be able to extract enough to get the gist. For a while I tried looking up words in my Spanish/English dictionary then I gave that up knowing I'd never get through this book if I kept that up. Most authors would give you enough to work with in English that it didn't really matter what you missed in a foreign language but not McCarthy. If you know no Spanish I would absolutely steer you away from this book.

This is the second book of the Border Trilogy and I just don't know if I can do the third after this. The first, All the Pretty Horses, I listened to the audiobook (not realizing it was the first of a series). No unabridged audiobook exists for The Crossing, and having read it,and all its Spanish dialogue, I now understand why.
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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
This is a worthy sequel to All the Pretty Horses yet I found the episodic nature of Billy Parham's journey to be a bit of a dip from the raw power of John Grady Cole's foray into Mexico. Partially because of the wealth of asides, some which lend themselves to deepening the journey (like the blind
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man) and some which seem to be too distended (like the airplane), and the fact that Parham is so much less capable than Cole. Perhaps maybe that's the point too. McCarthy's left me with a lot of questions and a harrowing vision of impenetrable dread. Maybe this will end up bumping it up a notch later on, we'll have to see.

McCarthy demonstrates again that he can deepen a reader's understanding of the world and the wild, harsh plains of the Southwest and Mexico. I'm looking forward to reading Cities of the Plains.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
"He turned the horse and set out along the road south, shadowless in the gray day, riding with the shotgun unscabbarded across the bow of the saddle. For the enmity of the world was newly plain to him that day and cold and inameliorate as it must be to all who have no longer cause except themselves
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to stand against it. (p 331)

The Crossing is filled with moments like that described above telling of Billy Parham's movements south and north through a country that seems to be perpetually gray, with little room for the sun. This is the second novel of The Border Trilogy. In it we are introduced to Billy Parham who is sixteen years old as the story begins, recently moved to New Mexico and fated to travel to Mexico and back - it follows Billy's travels and travails as he crosses and recrosses the border. These begin with Billy and his father setting traps for a she-wolf which has been marauding and killing their sheep. Billy is able to catch it in one of his traps, however instead of killing it he decides to take it to Mexico presumably to let it loose. It is with this act that his adventures begin and, operating without any apparent overarching aim, Billy who is later joined by his younger brother Boyd, set out on a series of quests, all of which are doomed to failure. While the travels of Billy make up the action of the novel, like All the Pretty Horses, the first novel in the trilogy, this novel is more about larger themes of good and evil, fate and responsibility, and the nature of friendship and relationships in this gray and desolate world. Related to these themes permeating the novel is the characters' ability or inability to see the world around them.

"Between their acts and their ceremonies lies the world and in this world the storms blow and the trees twist in the wind and all the animals that God has made go to and fro yet this world men do not see. They see the acts of their own hands or they see that which they name and call out to one another but the world between is invisible to them." (p 46)

This was related by an "old man" that Billy met as he was headed to Mexico on his first trip. Their are several characters like this whom Billy meets on his travels who relay stories and make important-sounding pronouncements. These along with the narrator raise issues that Billy may or may not understand. Among these comments are those about story-telling itself which may be key to understanding Billy's world and ours. McCarthy's odd narrational devices, his inimitable use of metaphor set against a background of realistic detail makes this volume the equal of the first in the trilogy. The story is bleak and narrates a tale of preservation in a world filled with enmity, yet it is a world that has many kind people and one in which Billy survives to see visions of unusual days and nights and perhaps a future.
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LibraryThing member daizylee
I actually like this best of the trilogy.
LibraryThing member goddamn_phony
More lyrical grimness from McCarthy that would be even better if I could, you know, speak Spanish. I actually downloaded a Spanish dictionary into the Kindle just so I could get through the dialogue.
LibraryThing member raggedprince
The second of the border trilogy, and my favourite. The book seems to outgrow
itself and take on majesty. Early on we grow to intensely like the young man, and then share in the experiences of his savage adventure. The mind attempts to classify in vain each mini narrative, to find the meaning - is
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it a fable or not? Instead i was left with a sense of wonder.
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LibraryThing member vguy
Slightly disappointing. The wolf story is great: a sense of the animal's strength and desperation and the boy's cautious caring. I felt sympathy and a degree of suspense. Once the wolf is gone, the narrative sags: the boy wanders back and forth, crosses the border several times, picks up odd jobs,
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meets sundry wise old men and violent younger ones; the narrator rhapsodises about the landscape - but whither and what for? The brother's shooting and disappearance also seems arbitrary. Hero quest? Revenge saga? Picaresque? Some of the stylistic mannerisms start to annoy after several hundred pages: "mexican" instead of "Mexican", "spanish" instead of "Spanish", lack of apostrophes and dialogue markings sometimes confusing. A feeling I get with quite a few American novels - would be better at half the length.
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LibraryThing member mattclark
Amazing book in three parts. At the end of the first I was wondering where the story could possibly go, and wasnt disappointed with subsequent "crossings". This book would easily be a five in all categories, but for one thing - the amount of spanish. I understand why it was there, and it does add
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to the exotic, otherworldly feel of Mexico in the book sharply distinct from the more ordered US (at least on the surface). However as a non-spanish speaker I found myself ripped out of the world in which I was willingly immersed by large sections of unintelligible (to me) dialogue. If only there were subtitles! I guess I figured out enough to get by and really loved the book overall... perhaps on a second reading I will get more out of it, maybe with an internet translator handy (!)
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LibraryThing member alycias
I really enjoyed the earlier parts with the wolf, more so than the second half which was sad and frightening just like Blood Meridian.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Part 2 of the Border Trilogy. As excellent as the first. On to Book 3.
LibraryThing member yeremenko
I stop short of 5/5 simply because much of this book is like the first part of the border trilogy.

McCarthy's descriptions are sharp and vivid. The scenes roll off his pen like the landscape in which they are set. The dialogue is exceptional. I always want to talk like one of his cowboys after
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reading one of his books.

Another great aspect is that he leads us to think we are into another standard western story, but then takes a turn into original. fascinating plots.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
The Crossing is a coming of age story set in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s near the US-Mexican border. It is the second book in McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy,” but may be read as a standalone. It is broken into three sections, with each correlated to one of Billy’s three quests.

As the
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book opens, teenage protagonist Billy lives with his parents and brother on the family’s isolated ranch in the New Mexican desert. He makes three trips across the border, involving a wolf, the family’s horses, and a missing person. None of these quests turns out as planned. During his travels, he gains wisdom through his experiences and discussions with local sages. Themes include guilt, fate, heroism, and the desire to live an honorable life (which he finds to be harder than it sounds).

The tone is dark. Billy suffers many hardships. His motivations are not always apparent. Sometimes he just “decides to do something” without thinking it through, and the consequences are dire.

McCarthy leaves many Spanish words and phrases (and a few paragraphs) untranslated, so passable knowledge of Spanish is helpful. If you are not a Spanish reader, you may want to keep a translation tool handy. I feel this book is a worthy follow-up to the first book in this series, All the Pretty Horses, which I also enjoyed and recommend.
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LibraryThing member Ailinel
The Crossing begins with 16 year old Billy working with his father to trap a wolf. After weeks of the she-wolf uncovering traps (without being caught in them), Billy begins to appreciate her intelligence and wildness. When he finds her finally caught in a trap, he collars her rather than shoot her,
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muzzles her, and sets off with wolf and horse to return her to the mountains in Mexico that she wandered from.
Billy’s journeys through Mexico, both alone and with his younger brother, Boyd, take him among different places and different people, many of whom share vivid stories of their lives and worldviews. Billy’s vagrant spirit and listlessness are mirrored in the stark and desolate landscapes he travels through, and the uncertainty of his future is shown in his often inexplicable choices and transient views.
The novel is sometimes beautiful, but often stark, harsh, and keenly painful even if the reader cannot agree with or understand Billy’s (and Boyd’s) decisions. The novel is in many ways bleaker than McCarthy’s The Road, and the characters in The Crossing lack the sense of connection with each another or with the world that is seen in The Road’s father and son.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I'm sure there are readers for whom Cormac McCarthy is a perfect fit, but I am not one of them, apparently. I was so disappointed with "The Crossing" that I opted to stop reading partway through.

I loved the first book in McCarthy's trilogy "All The Pretty Horses" and planned to read the following
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two (of which "The Crossing is the second.) In the interim, I read McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," which I detested for all the violence for violence's sake.

Like that book, "The Crossing" is filled with animal cruelty for animal cruelty's sake as a wolf gets tortured over and over again. I get the rancher hatred of wolves but I don't care to read about it. I kept skipping over paragraph after paragraph and realized I should just put the book down since I wasn't reading most of it anyway. Based on the last two experiences with his novels, McCarthy and I will part ways here.
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LibraryThing member donkeytiara
my favorite book of all time. the writing, like the landscape, is desolate and beautiful. The ending? Utterly the most stunning of all. Savor this book as you read it... because soon, you won't be able to read it for the first time again.....




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