The Crossing, publicized as the second installment of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. Like its predecessor, All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing is a coming-of-age novel set on the border between the southwest United States and Mexico. The plot takes place before and during the Second World War and focuses on the life of the protagonist Billy Parham, a teenage cowboy; his family; and his younger brother Boyd. The story tells of three journeys taken from New Mexico to Mexico. It is noted for being a more melancholic novel than the first of the trilogy, without returning to the hellish bleakness of McCarthy’s early novels.
Most of the protagonists are people of few words; thus the dialogues are few and concise. Additionally, since much of the interaction is with Mexican people, many parts of dialogues are written in untranslated Spanish.
The Crossing is the initiation story of Billy Parham and his younger brother Boyd (who are 16 and 14 respectively when the novel opens). The novel, set just before and during World War II, is structured around three round-trip crossings that Billy makes from New Mexico into Mexico. Each trip tests Billy as he must try to salvage something once he fails in his original goal. On both his first and last quest he is reduced (or perhaps exalted) to some symbolic futile gesture in his attempt, against all obstacles, to maintain his integrity and to be true to his moral obligations. This novel explores such issues as guilt, the acquisition of wisdom, heroism, and the crucial importance of stories.
The first section of The Crossing is the story of Billy Parham’s learning the ways of wolves as well as the ways of men. Like Ike McCaslin in William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” Billy becomes increasingly expert about the wild so that eventually he is able to corner the beast that is the object of his obsessive search. This section also may put readers in mind of Moby-Dick, for as the white whale surfaces out of the primal depths, McCarthy’s she-wolf comes up into the United States from the primitiveness of the mountains of Mexico. After many failed attempts, Billy finally traps the pregnant she-wolf, elaborately strings it out, and eventually succeeds in tying its muzzle closed, no easy task. At this point, Billy, seemingly on impulse, decides to leave home without any farewell or explanation in order to return the wolf to Mexico.
Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, which began with All the Pretty Horses, concludes with Cities of the Plain.