***The following review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish.
Proceeding cautiously through my long-awaited, chronological rereading of the works of Cormac McCarthy, reading the supplemental materials I’ve picked up over the years, and marveling at things I hadn’t noticed first time around. Isn’t that why we reread anything?
This one, as dark and foreboding as anything he’s written, in several ways, seems the telling of the Anti-Nativity—not the birth of the Anti-Christ, but a birth magnificently abhorrent, replete with familiar, though inverted/contorted biblical images worthy of Dante or Bruegel. Consider the three itinerant misfits who preside over the italicized sections—not the Magi, but three evil personages whose presence coincides with the birth of the child, whose presence is a torment to Culla, Rinthy, the unnamed child, the tinker, indeed everyone they encounter—who arrive, not bearing gifts but spreading carnage; consider their unholy communion around the fire with Culla; consider their leader’s uncanny resemblance to Judge Holden (the personification of evil in Blood Meridian).
To belabor the point: consider the unnecessary Sacrifice (is a human sacrifice ever necessary?). Try not to compare/contrast the Slaughter of the Innocents writ small in the final campfire scene. Try not to compare/contrast the biblical images of shepherds tending flocks with pigs run amok while their drovers shower blame on the innocent bystander. Try not to consider the child as one sent to redeem the sins of the world, but rather, as one who suffers the sins of the world nevertheless.
OD is more than biblical images, biblical language, poetry, and pacing, although it’s hard to not recognize or sense that biblical heft. Some readers may come away from OD feeling as though they’ve read the equivalent of the entire Old Testament. As an aside, I should mention that my biblical recollections are dated—arising, as they did (biting my tongue here) from a period after I followed a spectacular pair of blue jeans to a tent revival which led to a Scandinavian extravaganza with the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International.
It’s tempting to bump up the star rating on this, as it was with The Orchard Keeper, but unless something really startling happens on these rereads I’m going to stick with my initial rating. In this case, maybe bump it up to 4.5 so I can still distinguish it from No Country for Old Men—but then, I may like that one better this time around as well. And now, kind ladies and good gentlemen, I can proceed to the corresponding chapter in Reading the World: Cormac McCarthy's Tennessee Period in the hope of eventually overcoming my novice standing in the world of Cormac McCarthy studies; I know, I know, wishful thinking, but good things come to those who …wait, we’re talking McCarthy—good thing I’m not one of his protagonists.