Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Cormac McCarthy
October 18, 2006 1:10 PM   Subscribe

See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a last few wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens. The Dipper stove. The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her own bosom the creature who would carry her off. The father never speaks her name, the child does not know it. He has a sister in this world that he will not see again. He watches, pale and unwashed. He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.” --Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
posted by jason's_planet (41 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that last link was great. I had no idea he was chillin' with scientists these days.

And yeah, The Road is just great. I was trying to describe the prose style to a friend the other day, and the best I could come up with was, "It's like watching William Faulkner dying of AIDS".
posted by Greg Nog at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2006 [3 favorites]


I just finished The Road two nights ago. One of the most depressing books I've ever read. I love McCarthy.

My favorite passage from Blood Meridian:

The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a muddled field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.

posted by xmutex at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


Great quote, xmutex.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:31 PM on October 18, 2006


"It's like watching William Faulkner dying of AIDS".

That's a pretty perfect fucking description.
posted by Alex404 at 1:35 PM on October 18, 2006


Wow, that last link was great. I had no idea he was chillin' with scientists these days.

Thanks! There's a longer article in -- I think it was the July or August, 2005 issue of Vanity Fair, which goes into more detail about his life in Santa Fe and his relationship with the Santa Fe institute. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be online. But if you want to learn more, that might be worth checking out.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:39 PM on October 18, 2006


"It's like watching William Faulkner dying of AIDS".

Yes, exactly, perfect description. Man, I love ole Cormack McC. I think I've read Sutree about six times.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:42 PM on October 18, 2006


I read Blood Meridian while camping in NE Thailand. Even with the lush jungle around me, I still felt like I was sitting in the middle of a wasteland everytime I put the book down. McCarthy is a wonderfully bleak writer.
posted by Falconetti at 2:04 PM on October 18, 2006


Okay Divine_Wino, I've got a question: What other McCarthy are you fond of besides Sutree?

I'm asking because recently it seems to me like there are two types of Cormac McCarthy readers. One camp thinks that the Sutree/Outer Dark/older stuff is really his best, while the other camp is really into Blood Meridian and the border trilogy and his newer work.

Oh, and Greg Nog, I am totally going to use the "Faulkner dying of AIDS" description from now on, thanks.
posted by drumcorpse at 2:09 PM on October 18, 2006


great quote xmutex
posted by vronsky at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2006


that scene w/ the dancing bear in Blood Meridian still makes me want to cry...
posted by cgs at 2:23 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed The Road and was struck by how many zombie movies he's been watching, or at least decided to channel.
posted by bardic at 2:24 PM on October 18, 2006


I've been reading Blood Meridian for months now (not a light read, as I keep wanting to read and re-read the same sentence so as to absorb the music of his writing)... this post is a great compliment to the book.

Thanks!
posted by basicchannel at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2006


I don't really anything meaningful to contribute to this conversation except that cormac mccarthy is the greatest author I've ever read. I randomnly picked up blood meridian off the shelf of an airport bookstore (!!!) when I was in high school, and it changed my life. I have the road sitting on the table in front of me waiting for me to pick it up, but I have to wait a little bit and brace myself for what I'm sure is going to be soul crushing read.
posted by youthenrage at 2:39 PM on October 18, 2006


I finished The Road last week while sitting in the corner at Big Boy eating a patty melt and drinking a cup of coffee. The waitress actually asked if I was ok, seeing as how I seemed to be sobbing in my seat.

So, um, don't take it to Big Boy. But other than that, it's really an amazing novel.
posted by kbanas at 2:50 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Another great nugget from one of the best literary works of the 20th century:

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent. He nodded towards the specimens he'd collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men's knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate. 199


Some of the historical sources are fascinating too, especially My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain with its captivating watercolours, but there are lots more.

One thing that has always intrigued me about Blood Meridian, is that I've often recommended it, and several times been told that it was "too gory" or "too bloody" to read. In the context of everyday cinema and tv violence, it seems like an endorsement for the power of literary language to... invoke a more visceral response than visual media??
posted by ludicdruid at 2:53 PM on October 18, 2006


The Coen brothers are making a movie out of No Country for Old Men. Great match.
posted by gingembre at 2:57 PM on October 18, 2006


drumcorpse
I love it all, but I spend more time with the stuff up to the Border Trilogy, rereading and thinking about it. I love it all though, I'm a rabid fan.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2006


I have read Blood Meridian and understand it's a great book, but I have to be honest: I really wish he'd use quotation marks. It drives me fucking nuts.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I started reading The Road last night and the only disappointing thing about it is that I managed to read almost half of it in a few hours. I'd like my McCarthy to last a little longer. From some of the other comments it sounds like I'm going to have a long night.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2006


I love all his books.

Man, I'd love to see some writing by McCarthy about Santa Fe Institute stuff. They do some crazy stuff there; chaos, complexity theory, etc. To take all that into McCarthy's realm would be like a poem about stellar interior equations or Rebecca Borgstrom teaching physics.
posted by elendil71 at 3:28 PM on October 18, 2006


I'm a big fan of Cormac McCarthy as well. The Road is a great book and ranks just below Blood Meridian and Suttree in my opinion. When No Country for Old Men came out someone on the Cormac forum remarked that he was now officially out of the business of writing masterpieces. A bit harsh, but I though it was a big disappointment as well. The Road makes up for it. I was also surprised at how quickly it read. It was the fastest reading of all his books.

I second the recommendation for all the Blood Meridian fans to check out Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession. Such a bizarrre book. It was surprising to read how closely Blood Meridian followed this "historical" account. I don't remember the name but one of the other major historical sources is online and you'll run across it after doing some searches for "John Joel Glanton", "Yuma" and "massacre". This is also a great entrance to reading about some of the early Texas Rangers, like John Coffee Hays and Mustang Gray (who John Glanton served under). Glanton himself is an interesting figure and has a biography that is half legend, including allegedly being involved in a range war in his late teens where he killed the most prominent fighter on each side and barely escaped from the ensuing attempt to lynch him.

So when's the book about the ax murderer in New Orleans coming out?
posted by BigSky at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2006


I wasnt going to read No Country, cause I understood it to be a long curmudgeonly bash on everything progressive (not true, but I thought it at the time). So I listened to it instead. And there were some annoying 'everything since the 40s sucks' moments, but the way he ends Llewellyn Moss, jesus that was cold and powerful and sad.

I so wanted him to get that bastard Chigur, when he is on the phone with Chigur, obviously scared of Chigur, but I believed him when he said that he was coming for Chigur. And Chigur DESERVED it so much. But I knew, its Mccarthy, no way the good guy anti-hero saves the day, so yea, I was ready for Chigur to get the better of Moss, but Moss to go down like the hero.

No! The way McCarthy dropped him, it just happened, with Bell and some anonymous deputy talking about it, and the hitchhiker Moss is trying to help also getting killed, but Bell feeling that he has to tell the truth to Moss's wife, implied that Moss is cheating on her, when Moss was really just trying to help the hitchhiker, and they're both dead and no one will know ever know the truth. Damn, that just stayed with me on and on. Fuck he is one amazing writer, a book I wanted to hate was one I just couldnt stop listenting to.
posted by Gaius Gracchus at 4:44 PM on October 18, 2006


Gaius just prompted me to find some McCarthy audiobooks and all I can find on iTunes, Audible and Amazon are No Country . . . and All the Pretty Horses. I'm sure I owned The Crossing on cassette at one point; it was narrated by a pre-superstar Brad Pitt. Anybody know why more audio versions available, or are they not online and I just need to slog my carcass retail?
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2006


man, I spent a little time at the santa fe institute a few years ago when someone I knew was working there; wish I'd known I might've been found mccarthy around.

His writing is so rich and -incarnate, somehow, thick & luscious. Unfortunately (or maybe not) I discovered him later in my reading life so that the pure level of awe I might have experienced as a teenager was less available... I often feel nowadays like each author writes one book, over & over, so I'm less likely to read every one of them. With McCarthy I read Blood Meridian, and found it so beautiful that I sought out the best but least-like-that-one that anyone could recommend, which survey said was Suttree. I loved both books, but they did still kind of feel like the same book in the end, for me. Even so, this was at a time when I had almost stopped reading novels at all ... And the last (mumble mumble) years I've been in grad school & rarely had room for fiction. I hope once I've got the degree finished that I'll get back into literature, rediscover its infinite levels - it's good to know there are so many pleasures waiting.
posted by mdn at 5:16 PM on October 18, 2006


When No Country for Old Men came out someone on the Cormac forum remarked that he was now officially out of the business of writing masterpieces..

McCarthy writing sub-masterpieces is better than most other writers doing their best.
posted by xmutex at 6:09 PM on October 18, 2006


I read about him a month or two ago, and promptly added Blood Meridian and The Road to my Amazon shopping cart. It seems he's much less known outside of the US, I'd never heard of him (although the title "Blood Meridian" did seem vaguely familiar).

Apart from those two, which others are highly recommended?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:33 PM on October 18, 2006


Apart from those two, which others are highly recommended?

Good lord everything. But maybe at least Child of God and Outer Dark
posted by xmutex at 6:40 PM on October 18, 2006


Apart from those two, which others are highly recommended?

Suttree

I do not recommend "No Country For Old Men." It's just not that great.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:45 PM on October 18, 2006


While his words may work well in a cohesive unit, some of the stuff you guys have quoted comes across as incredibly stodgy and, well, self indulgent. To say something is "a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent" just sounds like, I'm sorry to say, textual masturbation. Or maybe some kind of linguistic pornography.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, I guess. I don't have a problem with people enjoy regular pornography and the consummate self-indulgence. So maybe it's not so bad, but it's a trait that I've tried to remove from my own writing (which has in turn made writing more boring to me).
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2006


Or maybe some kind of linguistic pornography . . . So maybe it's not so bad, but it's a trait that I've tried to remove from my own writing (which has in turn made writing more boring to me).

Maybe you were wrong. Maybe you should let your writing go off in a million midget-scat-s&m-lesbian-naughty housewives directions. Maybe it would be more fun for you then.

Writing is a self-indulgent pursuit from the get-go.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:06 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Much like with naked-people pornography, I feel like one's ability to do it well shifts a piece of art from "porno" to "AWESOME". McCarthy's got the writing-chops to turn up the "AWESOME" pretty damn high. His overall pacing, his sense of rhythm, and his ability to know when to be purple and when to be quiet 'n' terse -- they're fantastic. I'd highly reccommend Blood Meridian, delmoi.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:16 PM on October 18, 2006


One thing that has always intrigued me about Blood Meridian, is that I've often recommended it, and several times been told that it was "too gory" or "too bloody" to read. In the context of everyday cinema and tv violence, it seems like an endorsement for the power of literary language to... invoke a more visceral response than visual media??

Blood Meridian's violence is pretty extreme. I don't watch much tv but I'm sure that most viewers aren't seeing a whole lot of dead babies impaled on bushes, bags of puppies being purchased and then thrown into rivers, warriors sodomizing their dying enemies on the battlefield, scalping, retarded people kept in cages and wallowing in their own shit, pre-pubescent girls made into sex slaves, etc.

Also, I'm not sure if tv or the cinema can capture the moral cruelty that McCarthy depicts in Blood Meridian. The world of Blood Meridian is, I think, much more bleak and sociopathic than most offerings in the visual media. Most of the characters are just one step removed from the state of nature. Maybe that's what your friends found so troubling.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:26 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


My first name is Holden, just as the satanic character in Blood Meridian is called Judge Holden. Back in 1988 or 1989, when I was living in El Paso (where McCarthy lived at the time), I walked into an independent bookstore and told the husband-and-wife proprietors that I was looking for a book to take with me on vacation. In the ensuing conversation I told them my name, and how my mother named me after Holden Caulfield. That's always a good icebreaker when I meet literary people.

Anyway, when I told them my name was Holden, they exchanged significant glances, and they literally shoved Blood Meridian in my hands. I'm sure they couldn't wait till I returned from vacation to exclaim that I was the devil's namesake (or is it the other way around?).

But I didn't get more than two pages into the book during that vacation. The beaches of Costa Rica just weren't the right venue for Blood Meridian. I didn't read it until three or four years later, after I had moved away from El Paso. I wish I had satisfied the booksellers' wishes, storming into their store, shouting, "Hey, I'm the devil!"
posted by Holden at 7:28 PM on October 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


I wish I had satisfied the booksellers' wishes, storming into their store, shouting, "Hey, I'm the devil!"

That's a great story!
posted by jason's_planet at 7:41 PM on October 18, 2006


mdn:

McCarthy kept an office at SFI until December, when he temporarily gave it up, he says, because he was "having too much fun" – and not getting enough writing done. But he's hardly given up on the place. Though he has granted only two interviews in his long career, he's meeting with me, in part, to help spread the word about the institute. The family is aging, he says, and new blood is needed. "If there are young people out there doing interesting things," McCarthy says, "they should be here."

Why not go back to Santa Fe? Sounds as if they might need someone like you.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2006


never read him before the road (unrelentlingly, relentlessly bleak!); i'm just into post-apocalyptic fiction :P
posted by kliuless at 8:07 PM on October 18, 2006


I agree that Sutree is really good, and I liked The Road (in a very different way). But Blood Meridian is pretty much in a class by itself.
posted by freebird at 9:47 PM on October 18, 2006


(which has in turn made writing more boring to me)

But you are a great writer! Keep the faith! I see you are soon to be a great critic too!
posted by Wolof at 2:01 AM on October 19, 2006


Cormac is a one trick pony. It's a good trick but it's his only trick and it's old now. No Country For Old Men pretty much proved it. Commence flaming.
posted by spicynuts at 7:30 AM on October 19, 2006


Spicynuts,

What's his one trick?

Mastery of his trade?
posted by BigSky at 7:40 AM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]


His one trick is relentless desparation and bleakness presented in the same stark, sparse sentence structure in every novel. His voice is always the same and his characters are always the same. Don't get me wrong, it's a better trick than 99% of the writers out there, but I'm over it. The Border Trilogy was fantastic but I just as sick of it at the end as I was blown away by it at the beginning.
posted by spicynuts at 8:02 AM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


« Older Krishna Maharaj is a British businessman who was c...  |  The Worst Congress Ever.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments