Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cormac McCarthy, Untouchable?

Mmm, not quite. And yet ...?

Here we have a case where I'm the die-hard fan, watching a literary hero being fed to the critical fire, feet-first. Granted, there are some giving him a pass: once again The Globe & Mail backs off, letting Rick Moody voice exuberant praise for McCarthy's inescapable Blood Meridian, and quietly admit that while No Country For Old Men doesn't reach the same lofty peak, it's hardly cause for disappointment. I expect that will likely fall close to my own call, but I'm loathe to see such sentiment in print.

James Wood, meanwhile, carefully and I think accurately assesses the appeal to McCarthy's prose, then neatly drives home the critical lance on behalf of The New Yorker. Then there's this guy, quibbling over the enormity of McCarthy's philosophical contradictions - sheesh!

My virtual buddy Philip Christman gave me forwarning of his negative McCarthy review for Paste. I'll probably send an angry letter to the editors, just to let 'em know there's someone reading their "books" page, but I'm not really bothered by Mr. C's "thumbs-down". McCarthy has made himself into an enormous and easily parodied target, as evidenced by B.R. Myers' withering Reader's Manifesto. You'd think such a total evisceration would at least give a McCarthy reader pause before he purchases the next book, but nope - not me. The way I see it, McCarthy's prose is like Frank Miller's comic books: his outrageousness is on a level that makes whatever outrage you muster look meagre by comparison.

In this case I will keep my eyes peeled for a discounted (or remaindered) copy of No Country, and stick close to Walter Kirn's praise in the NYTBR. He praises the novel as a worthy addition to America's genre of crime fiction, and says:

Like classic French cooking, the best American crime fiction relies on a limited number of simple ingredients (which may be why it's so popular in France). Too much temptation. Too little wisdom. Too many weak, bad men. Too few strong, good ones. And spread over everything, freedom. Freedom and space. The freedom (perhaps illusory) to make poor choices and the space (as real as the highways) to flee their consequences -- temporarily, at least. Corny and crude in the way of all great folk art, the intrinsically pessimistic crime novel -- as opposed to the basically optimistic detective novel -- is not about the workings of human justice but the dominion of inhuman time. As devised and refined by James M. Cain, Jim Thompson and their gloomy paperback peers, the crime novel aimed its cheap handgun at the heart of America's most prized beliefs about its destiny: that the loot we've scooped up will belong to us forever and that history allows clean getaways.

I guess that's money I'll be withdrawing from the bank.

Update: Looks like Metacritic is scoring this a 67%, or "Generally Favorable". And Kirkus wants to put McCarthy "on a pedestal just below the one occupied by William Faulkner."

No comments: