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Purpose and Identity
am 19. November 1998
The last installment on the Border Trilogy proves to be well worth the wait. Although not McCarthy's best effort, any effort by McCarthy shines out like a lighthouse beacon over the dark waters of the standard fare of modern fiction (one shrinks from using the word literature for 99.9% of published fiction). McCarthy intertwines and concludes the tales of John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses and Billy Parham from The Crossing. A 20-year-old John Grady and a 28-year-old Billy Parham are working together on a ranch in New Mexico near El Paso in the early 1950s. In this tale, Billy becomes the everyman, doomed to walk the lands in search of the ever receding revelation which will give meaning to his life and healing to his pain, while Cole becomes the symbol for honor and redemption through deeds in a fallen (and still falling) world. All of the key elements of McCarthy's body of work are here - the quest, the violent nature of our race, the recurring nature of societies in an ancient land, our search for meaning in the seemingly arbitrary events of our lives, the pathos of our struggle against overwhelming fates. The epilogue is fifty years after the heroic Cole has done battle with the beast in his lair (there is something of the Norse myth about McCarthy - warriors in a recurring cycle of violence, Ragnarok when the gods and the forces of darkness annihilate each other at the end of all days) and has killed and been killed. (The best that can be hoped for in McCarthy's world is a hard fought draw in the unending battle with shadow forces.) A 78-year-old Billy, wandering his world aimlessly, homeless, waiting only for death, encounters a nameless stranger who is a shaman, a dream interpreter. The final scene is the summary statement of the Border Trilogy, and a defining moment in modern American literature. The basic questions of our existence - who are we and why are we here? - are answered in the only manner possible, with beauty and simplicity.