Beauty and Decay

This week, instead of reviewing a book, I wanted to talk a little bit about one particular author:  Cormac McCarthy.  McCarthy has been one of my favorite novelists for a number of years and with his recent explosion of fame (thanks to his Pulitzer for The Road and the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men), I wanted to explore a few things about his work that I find particularly impressive.  His novels are bleak, violent, minimalist, but also haunting and beautiful:  The Road stuck with me for weeks, constantly flooding back into my mind with each cloudy day I experienced, or with each father and son I saw.  The true beauty of his work is its ability to irrevocably haunt the reader, which is a rare trait with modern fiction.

There’s something about McCarthy that hearkens back to the recent literary past, which I think adds to his rare ability to connect with readers on a guttural level.  He explores the truly horrible aspects of reality with elegiac honesty and acknowledges the isolation and traumas regularly explored by the Modernists, particularly with regard to violence, dispossession and a sort of miasmic decay of culture (along with humanity’s reactions to changing conditions, particularly in The Road).

McCarthy’s unique mix of literary influences (the sparse honesty of Hemingway, the poetic beauty of Faulkner, etc.) always seem to coalesce into something stunning, even when the subject matter seems abhorrent (I’m immediately thinking of his description of a bush laden with the corpses of infants in Blood Meridian).  His characters embody a sense of the “in-between”–individuals carving a path amid trauma and the effects of repressing said trauma.  The fragmented nature of his novels–the sparse plots, the nameless characters, the brevity of the dialogue–often lends itself to an ultimate benediction, particularly found in the dénouement of The Road.  Similar to Eliot’s The Waste Land, we see potential amid chaos and destruction:  “the peace which passeth understanding.”

As one of the most talented writers working today, McCarthy deserves a chance from everyone (or even a second chance from the skeptics).  Pick up one of his novels and take the time to really drink it in–hopefully you’ll find his work as haunting as I do.

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