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.
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 Road. Blood 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?
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?
Aye, said the expriest. Every man.
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