Saturday, November 28, 2009

McCarthy in the LA Times

A curiously ambivalent article in the LA Times on Cormac McCarthy by Scott Timberg, to tie in with the release of the film version of The Road. It seems to discern a McCarthy bandwagon picking up speed and is determined not to board it. Timberg seems to rely pretty much exclusively on the opinions of Kenneth Lincoln, who produced a very peculiar (but highly readable) critique (of sorts) of McCarthy's work, almost reducing the plots into a series of parodies. I'm not sure he's who I would turn to if I wanted a rounded picture of McCarthy the writer.

Lincoln is quoted as saying: "His writing was horrific at the beginning, then he wrote about the West." Now, that's an interesting comment. Given that McCarthy's later works are every bit as horrific as the earliest works - the body count in No Country and The Road is far, far higher than The Orchard Keeper or Outer Dark or Child of God, for example - you are left wondering whether Lincoln actually means horrible rather than horrific? And, if so, would you accept as credible the views of someone who can mix up such entirely different words?

Timberg then describes No Country as 'the author's only tightly plotted genre work,' which is as wrong as you can get, really. It isn't a genre work, it is a philosophical novel that appropriates some of the conventions of the crime genre; and the plot can only be described as 'tight' if one ignores the various howling mistakes, improbabilities and non-sequiteurs which, if it were truly a genre novel, would make it an extremely poor one. As a philosophical novel, on the other hand, they work.

However, it ends with a quote from Lincoln which I actually think sums up McCarthy perfectly. "But I think we're going to need a strong stomach to get through the next 100 years," he says. My feeling is that this is exactly what McCarthy is trying to tell us.

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