Face it GoodReaders—Cormac McCarthy isn’t for everyone. I doubt it was ever his intention. He doesn’t write for the casual reader, or even the avid reader. I think he writes primarily for himself, and gets rather a kick out of those of us who follow his every word and enjoy it for what it is. Like any artist, he creates a work, makes it available to a public, and moves on. He’s seemingly uninterested in what people think of his work, or in discussing his work, or its popularity. Reception to his work runs the gamut: from the high praise of the eggheads (critics) and wanna-be eggheads, like myself, to the braying of the rabble: “it’s boring,” “what’s with that punctuation?” “he makes up words.” Comments like those suggest to me that a reader has read the wrong book; they say more about the reader than the text. Before I’m bashed for my arrogance, I concede that any reaction to a work of art is valid; it is what it is. BUT, a reaction doesn’t define a work; it merely says something about the observer. No book will ever appeal to everyone.
That said, McCarthy does resonate well with ‘serious’ critics—there are numerous volumes of literary criticism dedicated to his work. I suspect he’s better represented among current literary criticism than most contemporary writers because the writers of literary criticism often share and appreciate the same language and tradition.
McCarthy drives the plot-driven readers crazy. His novels aren’t without plot, but they’re often not plot-driven. A recapitulation of the story cannot convey the experience of reading McCarthy. His characterization often requires the participation of the reader, building on minimal dialogue, frequently minimal action, and the reader’s sense of self and stereotype (come on! Any domestic reader will conjure a vision of the characters from McCarthy’s ‘Tennessee period’). His novels are ALWAYS vividly situated with incredible images of place.
One week into the new year, and I’ve finished my first title—a rereading of this one. Staggering. I liked it even better this time around, although I’m sticking with my original rating. Not my favorite McCarthy, but it is everything I like most about his work. Relentless language, relentless storytelling…poetic, hyper-masculine, storytelling for the sake of the telling rather than the sake of the story. It is my intention to reread all his fiction and dramatic works over the coming year, as well as, the volumes of criticism I’ve acquired and have yet to read. One per month seems reasonable and without risk of burnout or wrist-slashing depression. Boy howdy!