The Big Five (5 of 5)

September 29, 2008

This is the fifth and final post in my series of five, describing the works of my five favorite authors, and what each of their writing has meant to me. I’ve enjoyed this project, so I think you can expect to see more “favorites” lists in the near future. Today’s author is Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy I consider to be possibly the best American author alive today. He was born in 1933, and has written several novels and plays. He won the Pulitzer for his novel The Road in 2007, and his novel No Country For Old Men was made into a movie last year by the Cohen brothers which won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and was indeed the best movie I saw last year, a 10 out of 10. Some of his other notable works include Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, which is, really, truly, criminally good, undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve ever read, and Suttree, which reads like a modern day Huck Finn and is also one of my favorites ever. His epic Border Trilogy, comprised of All The Pretty Horses, (which has also made it to the big screen), The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain, are also very strong.

The action of McCarthy’s books often takes place in the American West, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and across the border in Mexico. Whether they are historical pieces, such as Blood Meridian, take place in or around modern times, like No Country for Old Men, or are visions of an apocalyptic future, like The Road, which is also due out soon in movie form, his characters speak little, letting their actions dictate how they are meant to be viewed and judged. They are often tough, stoic, and resourceful, and their worlds are places of sudden, brutal violence. But McCarthy’s violence is unlike any other kind that I have encountered elsewhere in literature. In Blood Meridian, one of the most horrifyingly graphic novels I’ve read, not a drop spilled is gratuitous; quite the opposite, in fact. MCCarthy’s works imply the possibility of a regeneration and a rebirth, a renewal through violence, violence as cleansing, as a teacher, as a way of life more pure, more sanctified, than any other religion could ever hope to be. His vocabulary is simply stunning. I regard myself as having a better than average command of the English language, but there’s not a page of McCarthy’s prose that goes by that doesn’t have me running for a dictionary. If that sounds difficult, it is. This stuff wasn’t meant to be easy. But if you stick with it, the rewards will be great…greater than you could ever hope for sitting through church, mumbling to some imagined deity. But the violence aside, McCarthy’s writing also does something that I’ve really never seen any other writer accomplish. It reads like a combination of poetry and prose, or perhaps I should say, like prose as poetry. It’s really kind of uncanny. The effect of the writing style in Suttree and Blood Meridian in particular is completely and totally unique. I could never even attempt it, not that I have McCarthy’s vocabulary to work with.

To sum up, I’m not ashamed to admit that this is a writer that I am completely in awe of, to the point of even being a little afraid. Though I idolize him, I’m not sure I’d ever want to meet him. I don’t know what I would say. I’d be scared to death. I spoke of some people being almost religious about Stephen King. But King’s work is literary junk food, and he can never hope to be more than that. McCarthy’s writing is manna, the stuff of legends, dreams…blood drenched nightmares. To start out, I would recommend Blood Meridian, or Suttree, but I’ll come right out front and say this: there are going to be plenty of people, who, like Hemingway, just aren’t going to get it. How much of the general population is going to appreciate writing like this? I’d be hesitant to even venture a guess. But if you’re reading this blog, and you’ve gotten this far, then I’d like to flatter myself by thinking that you might respect my opinion, reader, and if you do, read Cormac McCarthy. It’s that simple. I recommend him the highest of any of the Big 5, though his stuff may be the most challenging. As for you, McCarthy, you are a living legend, and I’m embarrassed to even be writing about you, you who have accomplished more in your writing than I could if I lived a hundred lifetimes. I am your humble servant, maestro. Write on.    

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