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Cormac's Border Trilogy

Joel J. Miller at Miller's Book Review (Substack)

A man holds a gun to my head. “Summarize Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy in a single sentence,” he says.

I jolt. “You want me to,” I say, voice cracking, “distill more than a thousand pages, stretching across three novels into a solitary sentence?”

He answers, nonverbally. I hear the clack of his cocked hammer next to my ear, fully aware no edition of the Chicago Manual of Style permits the punctuation he next intends.

“John Grady Cole,” I start with a catch and warble in my voice, “has”—it suddenly comes to me—“the worst luck with Mexican women, and”—I sustain the connective syllable as I mentally hunt for the handgrip on the next passing train of thought—“Billy Parham can’t win south of the border.”

I await the loudest exclamation point I’ll ever hear. Instead, I register the clean, clear mechanical click of the hammer vacating its ready position of impending violence. The man holsters his pistol, turns, and walks.

Wait, that worked? Sure, my single sentence described the doings of the three books, but . . .

“Are you kidding me?” I yell, spinning to face the disappointing gunman’s retreating shape. “There’s more! Don’t you want to know the rest?”

At the start of All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole is just sixteen but, faced with grim prospects at home, decides to hire on as a ranch hand in Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. It’s several years after World War II, and the Old West is vanishing fast. Still, he saddles up his horse, Redbo. With Lacey astride Junior, they point South and ride.

Modern-day developmental psychologists would say John Grady’s executive function hasn’t yet fully come on line. It shows. He’s likable but every bit as overconfident in his abilities as he is ignorant of the world’s unwritten rules.

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Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
Reviewing ‘All the Pretty Horses,’ ‘The Crossing,’ and ‘Cities of the Plain’