Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Coffee: Reading Cormac McCarthy

Reading Cormac McCarthy makes me want to set up a roadside shrine to his writing. The first book I read by McCarthy was The Road, then I read No Country For Old Men. But I became a McCarthy worshiper with Blood Meridian. Now I'm reading The Border Trilogy .All the Pretty Horses was the first book I read in 2013, and now I'm reading The Crossing. I seem to fall into a trance-like state when reading McCarthy...it's a heightened reading experience. For one thing, there are the sentences. McCarthy's sentences have a sort of Old Testament prophetic quality. His language is a combination of the ordinary and the erudite. And McCarthy writes long, comma-less sentences that wind their way down half a page or more.

I first read about McCarthy in a New York Times interview that made him sound like a hermetic, impoverished genius---which he was. The article, "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction," is available online. I do think those years of singular and obsessive focus refined McCarthy's fiction in a way that a less rigorous dedication might not have. And McCarthy clearly has a fearless confidence in his own style and vision. He's willing to do some things that most writers shy away from; for instance, McCarthy uses Spanish liberally throughout his novels (in Blood Meridian, but especially in The Border Trilogy). Not just a smattering, not a few words here and there, but whole conversations. Now, he does paraphrase some of the dialogue in later paragraphs, but any reader who doesn't have a passing acquaintance with the Spanish language must feel lost some of the time.

There are other barriers that some readers might have trouble with too; like John Steinbeck and Alan Paton, Cormac McCarthy eschews quotation marks in his dialogue. He also loves pronouns, and its up to the reader to come along and figure out who all the "hes" and "shes" are---I had trouble with that in the beginning of All the Pretty Horses. And along with all his paragraph long sentences, McCarthy throws fragments around with aplomb.

So why do all of these stylistic quirks add up to a compulsively readable prose? I don't know how he does it, but he does. Once you get past your initial confusion, you find that McCarthy is eminently dependable, and that his style is among the most consistent you'll ever find. The stark beauty of his prose is stunning, and at times I just want to cry for the beauty of it all.

Now I'm about a hundred pages into The Crossing. After reading for fifty pages about 16-year-old Billy Parham's attempts to trap a wolf, the novel takes a turn. After finally trapping the wolf, Billy doesn't shoot the wolf; instead he releases her and begins a journey toward the Mexican mountains, where he plans to release the she-wolf, who is carrying a litter of pups.

Believe me when I tell you that I haven't read anything more gripping than this story of a boy and a wolf.


Ryan said...

I've been meaning to pick up more Cormac McCarthy novels but I somehow always forget about it when I enter a bookstore. Thanks for the reminder.

bibliophiliac said...

@Ryan-Now that I've gotten started on McCarthy I guess I'll have to read everything he's published!