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Posts Tagged ‘Cormac McCarthy’

Check it out, FLAPPERHOUSE was interviewed by a real-live Interviewer!

Interviewer: FLAPPERHOUSE has described itself as “Dragging the future back through the past, like a rotting donkey on a grand piano.”

FLAPPERHOUSE: Chien! Andalusia! We are un!

Interviewer: Precisely. And by “the past,” more specifically you mean circa the 1920′s?

FLAPPERHOUSE: Yes and no. Mostly yes. We do think the future should have much more futurism. But with much less fascism. We’d also like to see more surrealism, expressionism, dadaism, psychological horror, and, of course, modernism.

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Most of the crimes in Frank Bill’s Crimes In Southern Indiana are crimes of passion, though even the premeditated crimes tend to go awry and lead to more crimes of passion.  All seven deadly sins are accounted for, if you count meth addiction as a form of gluttony.  Villains outnumber heroes by a wide margin, and many of the heroes are heroic simply by default.

A number of these short stories are simply pistol-whipping pulp, or blood-spattered snapshots of the American nightmare.  And more often than not, these vicious vignettes are intensely gripping.  Yet a few stories dig in deeper, richer soil.  “The Penance Of Scoot McCutchen” has one of the book’s most sympathetic characters coping with his wife’s deteriorating health, and his own crushing guilt.  An unfortunate mishap in “The Accident” leads to a surreal and unforgettable descent into madness.  “The Old Mechanic” starts out looking like a one-dimensional portrait of an abusive husband, but soon explores the complications of redemption and forgiveness.

Crimes In Southern Indiana will probably remind you of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak hellscapes, or less comedic versions of the Coen Brothers’ darker tales, or Breaking Bad‘s tweaked-out brutality.  However, the book’s portrayal of Southern Indiana also reminds me of Stephen King’s Southwestern Maine- if only all the references to supernatural forces had been edited out.  In Frank Bill’s world, humans are monsters just because– which is usually way more terrifying.

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I’ve read exactly one novel in my life that I thought had a good reason for not putting quotation marks around its dialogue, and that was Jose Saramago’s Blindness.  That’s the book where a mysterious plague makes everyone blind except for one woman, so it totally makes sense not to put quotes around dialogue there.  The unattributed dialogue adds to the confusion, mystery and fear that would infest a world without sight, and it makes the reader feel more like a character in the story.

But unless your novel has a premise that would benefit from no quotes, please, for the love of literacy, put quotes around your dialogue.  If the narrator is paraphrasing what someone else said, that’s one thing.  But if the narrator is, you know, quoting a character, then use the damn quotes.  That’s what they’re there for.

Granted, sometimes quotes aren’t 100% necessary.  But far too often, I need to re-read a sentence that doesn’t use quotes because the first time around I thought it was the narrator’s voice when in fact it was a character’s voice.  I love re-reading a sentence if I feel like it was beautifully crafted, or it contains more than one layer of meaning…but I don’t like re-reading a sentence because the author was too lazy to type quotes around it.

Recently I noticed a dearth of dialogue quotes in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, although that dearth was tiny potatoes considering how much I enjoyed the book overall.  For the most part though, I’m looking at Cormac McCarthy here.  Sometimes when I read his novels I wonder if he wants them to be so barren and desolate that even quotation marks cannot survive.  Like the quotation marks just wither and die in the hot desert sun, or the post-apocalyptic wasteland, or the amoral Texas underworld, or wherever.  And in most fonts, quotation marks do appear somewhat festive and fun, like bits of confetti.  So in a sense I think I get why McCarthy wouldn’t want bits of confetti tossed around his bleak, barren worlds.  But dude, even in the bleakest, most barren world, it really helps to know who’s saying what.  Unless, of course, everyone’s suddenly gone blind.

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The first Cormac McCarthy book I read was The Road, which generally made me rather angry.  There were a few powerfully haunting scenes: the poor souls trapped in the basement, for one, and the baby by the campfire for another.  And I won’t lie- by the end, the relationship between the father and the son got to me, and the last scene with the two of them really choked me up.  But ultimately, the ultra-minimal style got on my nerves.  To me, it read like McCarthy thought he invented the post-apocalyptic novel or something, so he didn’t have to elaborate much, or at all.  Like he thought he could just have his father and son wander through the gray, dead landscape searching empty houses for food and hiding from evil savages, and we would be impressed by that.  Like he thought post-apocalyptic genre stuff like The Stand or I Am Legend or The Walking Dead was beneath him, and/or he never bothered to read it, and he had no idea that The Road might need a little something extra to set it apart.  My good friend Dan Mooney pretty much nails it in his satirical pseudo-excerpt:

The chill wind battered their gaunt frames.  It would have played their ribs like sad xylophones were it not for the thin jackets.  The man looked out to the horizon.  Cold grayness stretched out, morbidly, like a corpse.  It was dark and cold.  The black river to the side looked still below its frozen top.  A snow fell, gray and impure.  Darkness encroached upon their grimy, gray selves.  A gray coldness darkened the evening.  The boy was cold and hungry.
Can we stop to eat?
We can’t stop to eat.
Because the bad men will find us?
Yes, they will find us.
But I’m so hungry.
You are hungry.
Okay.
Okay.

Ya burnt, C-Mac!

In spite of my general dislike of The Road, I plan to read a lot more of McCarthy.  After all, a lot of people whose tastes I share and respect seem to admire him, including the Coen Brothers, who made that No Country For Old Men movie I really enjoyed.  Right now I’m about a third of the way into Blood Meridian, and so far I enjoy it much more than The RoadBlood Meridian only gets on my nerves when McCarthy describes the harsh, desolate, morbid landscape, which he does way more than he needs to, ’cause dude I get it already, THE AMERICAN WEST IN THE MID-1800s WAS A HELLISH, HELLISH HELLHOLE.  So you don’t need to remind me every single chapter.

Still, I like the prose here a lot more.  It feels like it’s putting a dark spin on the American Western, rather than acting like it fucking invented the genre.  The imagery is much more vivid, and the memorable scenes are much more frequent.  This particular passage made me tremble with awesome as I read it on the subway this evening, and I had to read it like 3 more times to fully savor it:

For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures. 

The kid thought him to mean birds or things that crawl but the expriest, watching, his head slightly cocked, said: No man is give leave of that voice.

The kid spat into the fire and bent to his work.

I aint heard no voice, he said.

When it stops, said Tobin, you’ll know you’ve heard it all your life.

Is that right?

Aye.

The kid turned the leather in his lap.  The expriest watched him.

At night, said Tobin, when the horses are grazing and the company is asleep, who hears them grazing?

Dont nobody hear them if they’re asleep.

Aye.  And if they cease their grazing who is it that wakes?

Every man.

Aye, said the expriest.  Every man.

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