Thursday, July 15, 2010

unanticipated brilliance.

i wish i had something brilliant to say about the book i’m currently reading, but the truth is, my simple words cannot express how fascinatingly beautiful and terrifying this book is.

i’m reading cormac mccarthy’s the road.  i am not a fan of mccarthy.  after two run-ins with him in my undergraduate career—both of them exceedingly painful—i swore i would never pick up another one of his books.

my sister read the road a couple years ago and loved it.  she was so disturbed by it that she had to stop reading it at night.  my sister reads a lot—far more than i do.  “if a book could have that kind of effect on her, perhaps it could be worth my time,” i thought to myself after discussing it with her.

a lot of time passed and i grew bored with my favorite genre, narrative nonfiction.  so i picked up a cheap copy of the road.  i started reading and was horrified.  “this book is terrible!  this style—horrific!  there’s no sentence structure, no organization—where are the apostrophes—it feels like post-modernist stream of consciousness.  eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” were the thoughts streaming through my head after the first page, then the second.

but finally, after allowing myself to stop correcting grammar and doing all the things that english teachers tend to do, i came to the realization that this style, this form is quite lovely.  and quite effective.

the road is a bleak novel.  i’m half way through and am consistently dumbfounded by how things can move from bad to worse just when you can’t fathom what worse could be.  i don’t know what kind of life experiences mr. mccarthy had that led him to this kind of bleak imagining, but i’m glad he had them.

mccarthy’s style is unique.  there are no chapters or parts.  there are only vignettes which serve to disorient the reader in regard to time.  the personas in the novel have no measurable way to account for the passing of time—why should the reader?

once the reader is properly knocked off-center by the lack of organization, mccarthy’s style really picks up.  the novel centers around two characters: a father and his young son in a post-apocalyptic world.  these two characters are the only people in the novel for some time.  the reader feels this through mccarthy’s style—his word choice, pacing, imagery.  you may be reading the book in a room filled with people, but you are alone on the road with ash raining down on you from above, traveling alongside these two pathetic figures.  you are isolated from everything and everyone.  you are cold, wet, and hungry.  you are on the road.

i think the most striking part of the novel for me has been the incredible way in which i respond to the novel physiologically.  when the protagonist encounters another human—any human—my heart races, anticipating an encounter filled with variables.  it is in these moments of uncertainty and fear when mccarthy’s style really shines.  suddenly his phrasing becomes shorter, his words more aggressive in tone, the whole beat of the novel picks up.  as soon as the encounter is over, the prose returns to normal.  this shift in style creates a real momentum—just like suspenseful music does in a movie.  simply phenomenal.

all in all, i think i may have misjudged mr. mccarthy.  turns out, he is an amazing writer—i would argue that his ability to paint a picture in the mind of the reader rivals that of garcia marquez (which coming from me is an enormous compliment).  i think i love the road for all of its loneliness, isolation, desperation, and fear.

yes, i love it.  though i do long for an apostrophe now and then.

p.s. harold bloom can still suck it.