Cities of the Plains represents a high point in writing about the land and peoples of the American Southwest. It is full of astonishing descriptions of the dramatic landscape around El Paso, Juarez, and the region surrounding these two cities that are, to the experienced eye, perfect accounts of what you see when you look at rock formations, sunsets, mists, horizons, distant cities, animals, fences, and rivers out there. At the same time the novel presents a wonderful cast of funny, tragic, laconic, bewildered and haunted people from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, both Americans and Mexicans. And there is a great deal of knowledge shared about horses, cows, dogs, birds, whorehouses, ranches, and the limitations within which one can make a living in such arid lands.
The central plot--a boy falls in love with a young prostitute kept in a bordello against her will--is cloaked, as is much of the book, in a kind of romanticism that bars skepticism on the reader's part. He sees her, he loves her, he wants to help her escape and to marry her. Okay, we seem to know this kind of story, and we seem to know it won't turn out well. But McCarthy makes his characters and places and events real as real can be within this nimbus of romantic fantasy with its Faulknerian overtones both in style and puffed-up saints and sinners.
My one complaint is the epilogue, which is needless, abstract, silly, pseudo-philosophical, and should have been excised even if, in true McCarthy style, the editor had to put a gun to the author's head to make him give it up. I would have given the book five stars if it weren't for the epilogue. When the real story comes to an end, brutal though it may be, all that is important in this book has been said, and said beautifully. I loved reading it until the very end.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund