Sixteen-year-old Billy Parham leaves his family ranch in New Mexico to take a wolf he has captured back across the border to the Mexican hills he believes it came from. In The Crossing Cormac McCarthy tells the story of the boy’s journeys among the people who try to live in the border territories – ranchers, thieves, priests, gypsies, healers and murderers. It’s an extraordinary read. The story is so bleak that in most writer’s hands it would be repellent, but McCarthy’s prose is compelling, taut and revelatory. Sometimes reading I forgot to breath.
The first section’s descriptions of Billy’s experiences with the wolves are especially beautiful and reveal the boy’s character without the narrative ever having to explain his thoughts or the motivations for his actions, which are often extreme, even perverse. The later sections relate encounters on the road and include many discussions of human violence and faith, in McCarthy’s characteristic prophetic style. Here’s a blinded soldier talking to a woman whose family was killed by bandits:
He said that as the memory of the world must fade so must it fade in his dreams until soon or late he feared that he would have darkness absolute and no shadow of the world that was. He said that he feared what the darkness held for he believed that the world hid more than it revealed.
And of the man who blinded him, He said that in his opinion no one could speak for the origins of such men nor where they might appear but only of their existence. He said that who steals one’s eyes steals a world and himself remains thereby forever hidden.
I don’t know if this book is a wise one because I was too much overwhelmed by the words, but I’m pretty sure that whatever storytelling is for, Cormac McCarthy understands.