Stuff I’m Reading: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

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09/30/2008 9:00 AM |

I finished this book a while ago, but given that the world is collapsing around our ears, now seems a good time to talk a little more about end-times good-times.

Someday soon, someone will write a really a good parody of The Road — all short paragraphs, stucktogether words and vocab words and contractions that dont have apostrophes, mentions of ash and tarblack trees and racking pain and then ending in an emotional upsweep of either apocalyptic despair or transcendental belief; repeat for a couple hundred pages. I will not be the person who writes this parody.

Of course the thing that’s most powerful about the book is, well, the whole thing, the sustained, diligent act of imagining our world transfigured. Yes it takes us all to our dark places, and that’s apparently something that was universally, searingly resonant when the book came out (and now).

But I’m kinda most impressed with the way McCarthy turns one of the most problematic aspects of narration into a virtue. Specifically, moving characters around on the page. All that deadwood language — “he went” and “he walked” and everything like that, the frustratingly style-killing and sentence-fattening stuff you need to use to explain how someone who was over here is now over there. But here (as in No Country for Old Men, the only other book of his I’ve read), McCarthy writes in pared-down language and clauses joined with “and”s, to describe elemental physical action — he went onto the road and looked at the sky and went back to the shed and picked up a shovel and dug at the ground to test it et cetera. Action and motion are reduced to their driest, most efficient essentials, and the minimal, stark language seems to stand in for everything that isn’t said, black “went”s and “and”s and “then”s like scars on the page.

2 Comment

  • You need to read Blood Meridian (and then Suttree) to see how he accomplishes the same minimalist impression without any of the efficiency of Road or Country. Mind-blowing.

  • Funny enough, I found a free and nearly new copy of this book from my library yesterday. What does this all mean?! (10/1/08)