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A g a i n s t N o s t a l g i a : T u r n i n g t h e P a g e o f C o r m a c M c C a r t h y ’s C it ie s o f t h e P l a in T r e n t o n H i c k m a n Nostalgia! No, that is a charge that irritates us profoundly, one that we take particular pains to refute. If nostalgia is the crav­ ing for a past way of life no longer possible, then we ask our accusers: what vanished way of life can possibly be represented by our bare, winding passageways? ... Our passageways have nothing to do with some earlier, simpler way of life; though we can’t say, don’t know, what our passageways are, it would be far truer to say that they bear no relation whatever to any period of our history, but rather exist as a place apart—-a place from which to contemplate the town coolly, or even to forget the town altogether. — Steven Millhauser, “Beneath the Cellars of Our Town” C orm ac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain (1998) is the final novel in his celebrated Border Trilogy, following All the Pretty Horses ( 1992) and The Crossing (1994) in their respective tales of cowboys negotiating various ways of traveling and knowing the West (specifically the Southwestern United States and the Northern Territory of Mexico). In Cities of the Plain, McCarthy brings together his protagonists from All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole, and The Crossing, Billy Parham. By the time that John Grady and Billy befriend each other in 1952, they have spent much of the previous decade zigzagging from the United States to Mexico and back again. Searching for a place to honor the cowboy, the two men gain knowledge and self-awareness and seek to right the wrongs of stolen horses, trapped wolves, spumed lovers, and murdered loved ones. In Cities of the Plain, Billy and John Grady encounter new challenges as John Grady falls in love with and tries to rescue a poor Mexican girl from her de facto imprisonment in a Mexican border-town brothel. When the ongoing gyre of bloodshed destroys John Grady, Billy is left to pick up the pieces of his life against the backdrop of much death and destruction. We s t e r n A m e r ic a n L i t e r a t u r e 42.2 (Su m m e r 2007): 142-63. Deborah Butterfield. WICKIUP. 1995. Cast bronze. 89" x 98" x 44". Courtesy of the artist. On the final page of Cities of the Plain, readers encounter a cryptic statement that McCarthy labels not a valediction, as one might expect, but a “dedication.” The short verse reads, “I will be your child to hold / And you will be me when I am old / The world grows cold / The heathen rage / The story’s told / Turn the page.” To whom, after three novels that highlight the journeys, confrontations, violence, and epiphanies of two cowboy protagonists in the US-Mexico borderlands, does McCarthy dedicate this passage? I argue that the text simultaneously dedicates this passage to the careworn characters of the Border Trilogy and to the trilogy’s readers, thus asking this terse verse to honor those who popu­ late the pages of the trilogy but also to admonish readers to “dedicate” themselves to the “holding,” being, telling, and turning of the pages to which their reading obligates them. With this quirky move, McCarthy’s dedication defeats a sense of nostalgia and sentimentalism that would tempt readers to see a novel like Cities of the Plain as an elegiac treatment of the “vanishing” West. Instead, McCarthy suggests that the ways of his protagonists John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, like the ways of genera­ tions before them, are not “disappeared” but merely “hidden” from view, only to resurface and reinterpret the later western landscape in genera­ tions yet to come. In short, McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain isn’t one...


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pp. 142-164
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