June 01, 1998 12:00 PM

by Cormac McCarthy

The men who inhabit McCarthy’s acclaimed Border Trilogy talk about everything—the weather, the West, horse-breaking and horse-trading—in laconic cowboy monosyllables that add up to poetry. They’re lean, capable Marlboro Men who are, however, given to hightailing it off to Mexico on sudden, quixotic quests. Cities of the Plain, set in 1952, ends the trilogy and brings us, once again, John Grady Cole of All the Pretty Horses and his friend Billy Parham. Cole is in love with a teen prostitute. He plans her rescue from the pimp who owns her, attends to his business on the ranch and learns the price of manhood.

This isn’t McCarthy’s strongest novel, and there’s a 28-page epilogue that teeters on the line between Art and Pretension. But McCarthy, even on an off day, is nestled comfortably in the top rank of American novelists. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Prime stock—and more than a western

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