Mythic Prose By A Modern Melville

This post is inspired by a recent trip to the movies. I saw an excellent film. Faithful, in almost every way, to the novel it was based on. Intense. Harrowing. Profound. Shattering. Yet hopeful. The movie I saw was The Road. And for all it’s attributes, its good intentions, its loyalty to its source, etc., it couldn’t compete with its printed forefather. The visceral power that grips you on every page of that book is an experience every reader should have. I read it in two sittings on an airplane. One, going to my destination. The other, returning from it. On the second, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Hopefully my seat-mate wasn’t overly embarrassed. I was too locked-in to the final pages to notice, or for that matter, to care.

Rather than going into the plot, what little there is, of Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic story of one man’s attempt to remain human when there seems little to no reason to do so, I’d like to simply add my feeble praise to all those who have waxed much more eloquently than I about it’s author. Reading a Cormac McCarthy novel is always a grand adventure. Some of which can be unimaginably fulfilling while one or two can be stultifying. But whatever adventure you have with McCarthy, you’ll be better off for it. His range as a novelist is particularly impressive. A couple of years ago he had a big hit with what some would consider a garden-variety thriller, No Country For Old Men. And while some assumed McCarthy was simply slumming between “big novels”, the Coen Brothers turned his book into an Oscar winner for Best Picture. Prior to that, a long and memorable list of novels unfolded. There was the west Texas trilogy of times past and present. Written by the way, in the order of: first book (the mid life of his characters), second book (the beginning of their story), third book, (their eventual end). Their titles, in the order in which they were written: All The Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain. Of the three to date, All The Pretty Horses, has been the biggest hit (and was also turned into a movie), my favorite though is Cities of the Plain. The story of two aging cowboys unable and unwilling to change with the times and subject to the harsh fate that often awaits men of honor.

The Road won McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize, All The Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men made him a household literary name (if that’s remotely possible), but the novel that many consider to be his best, still waits to be discovered by the public at large. Blood Meridian: Or The Evening Redness In The West, was listed by TIME Magazine, among others, as one of the top three novels in the last half century. At its simplest, It’s an uber-violent tale of bounty hunters taking scalps and creating mayhem along the Southwestern border with Mexico. At its grandest, it’s a tale that rivals Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for capturing time and place and men of mythic proportion.

I would however, be remiss if I did not add one laborious adventure I personally had with one of McCarthy’s novels. Suttree, chronicles a short period of time in one man’s life over a seemingly never ending number of pages in which virtually nothing of consequence actually happens. Life on the river is played out at a pace that makes watching paint dry feel like a thrill ride. It’s been said that it took McCarthy over twenty years to write Suttree. It may take some, just as long to read it. But, be that as it may, you’re only hurting yourself if you don’t become acquainted with the writing of Cormac McCarthy. You may need to keep one of those e-dictionaries nearby, for he’s extremely fond of using a word or two, now and then, that hasn’t actually been seen in print for the last couple of centuries, but you’ll revel in the presence of literature with a capitol L. The Fiction Fortune Hunter has. And hopefully, will continue to do so.


13 Responses to “Mythic Prose By A Modern Melville”

  1. I chose The Road for my book club to read and ended up having to mightily defend my recommendation to the group. I LOVED the book and did not experience it as the “too dark” downer that most in my group felt it was. I think McCarthy is brilliant. He never fails to move me.

  2. Opra chose it too. She even wound up doing an interview with McCarthy. And he never does interviews. In it, he spilled one of his writing secrets. He almost never uses punctuation. He says he doesn’t like to clutter up the page with those little marks.

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