Friday, March 02, 2012

Trying to decide if I should read Cormac McCarthy

Two completely unrelated quotes:

“This gives his novels a relentlessness, barreling the reader through his gloomy worlds. If one theme is consistent to McCarthy’s work, it’s depravity and darkness. His stories usually follow characters who venture into desolate places, where humanity is descending into something devious and dark: the brothels of Cities of the Plain, the roving murderers of Blood Meridian, the cannibals who haunt the margins of The Road. Through this frightful landscape, McCarthy’s lead characters do their moral wrestling, wondering if anything good remains in the darkness. His books all answer that question differently, though (I would argue) rarely without some measure of hope.


John Piper once said on Twitter ‘Cormac McCarthy is to the American literary canon what Judges is to the the biblical canon.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

 — Mike Cosper, The Gospel CoalitionCormac McCarthy: Judges in the American Canon

“If what’s always distinguished bad writing— flat characters, a narrative world that’s clich├ęd and not recognizably human, etc.— is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then [Bret Easton] Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”

 — David Foster Wallace, posted by Alan Jacobs, via kadrey

The first paragraph is written by a Christian for a Christian institution about an author who writes dark and violent novels that John Piper says are comparable to the biblical book of Judges. The second paragraph is written by an author and has nothing to do with Cormac McCarthy. But it does give a sort of argument for writing about light shining through darkness.

I have not read any Cormac McCarthy, who many of my friends say is great. Clearly his work is dark. Most of the literary society thinks his work could not be characterized as bad writing. The questions I have are whether 1) he finds a way “both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibiliites for being alive and human in it”? and whether 2) it is sufficiently good writing for me to read it?

1 comment:

Matt C. said...

You know my answer already: you have a son, therefore you should at least read The Road (and you can borrow my copy).