Barbarians at the stacks

The low road to high literature

And I thought my opinion of Rich Lowry’s opinions couldn’t get any lower:

My problem with cormac mccarthy [Rich Lowry]
I just came back this week from a vacation and had a chance to do some casual reading, which included Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I had never read any McCarthy before, and he has a certain power. But I can’t say I enjoyed slogging through the two-thirds of the book that involves detailed descriptions of guys wandering through the desert. I know this is mood music and know it provides some relief from all the blood-letting, but it makes the book feel like a padded-out novella.

To which the creepy Derb adds:

Buckets o’ Blood [John Derbyshire]

I know just the person to produce a movie from one of Cormac McCarthy’s books.

My guess is that the Derb is making a reference to Gibson’s Jesus of Fangoria, but who really knows what passes for a thought in the musty shallows of that cranial backwater. And, of course, a McCarthy book has already made it to the screen , but since it lacked a nymphet it probably flew under the Derb’s radar.

I don’t know anyone who reads Cormac McCarthy for ‘the story’. One reads McCarthy for the writing that constitutes the portion of the book that Lowry calls “padded-out”. And if people like Lowry insist on dumbing down the culture or misusing what little intellectual capital they still have, squirreled away like a linty breath mint in the pocket of their favorite khakis, the least they can do is leave off the whinging over all that ‘padding’ they skimmed over while hoping for more interesting words like “nipple” or “boom!” to breach the surface and bring them back to the task at hand.

As Exhibit A, and from a previous post on Blood Meridian, here is a favorite passage of mine:

They began to come upon chains and packsaddles, singletrees, dead mules, wagons. Saddletrees eaten bare of their rawhide coverings and weathered white as bone, a light chamfering of miceteeth along the edges of the wood. They rode through a region where iron will not rust nor tin varnish. The ribbed frames of dead cattle under their patches of dried hide lay like the ruins of primitive boats upturned upon that shoreless void and they passed lurid and austere the black and desiccated shapes of horses and mules that travelers had stood afoot. These parched beasts had died with their necks stretched in agony in the sand and now upright and blind and lurching askew with scraps of blackened leather from the fretwork of their ribs they leaned with their long mouths howling after the endless tandem suns that passed above them. The riders rode on. They crossed a a vast dry lake with rows of dead volcanoes ranged beyond it like the works of enormous insects. To the south lay broken shapes of scoria in a lava bed as far as the eye could see. Under the hooves of the horses the alabaster sand shaped itself in whorls strangely symmetric like iron filings in a field and these shapes flared and drew back again, resonating upon that harmonic ground and then turning to swirl away over the playa. As if the very sediment of things contained yet some residue of sentinence. As if the transit of those riders were a thing so profoundly terrible as to register even to the uttermost granulation of reality.

Now that’s writing for people who love writing. If you want to read McCarthy for straight narrative drive, and incidentally the only McCarthy novel that seems specifically built for the screen, you should read No Country for Old Men, not Blood Meridian which is more Moby Dick and less Louis L’Amour.

Which brings me to this from Anthony Lane’s Nobody’s Perfect:

Gore Vidal once wrote a celebrated essay with a very plain title: “The Top Ten Best Sellers According to the New York Times as of January 7, 1972.” He had a high old time. He got to read Mary Renault, which he loved, and Solzhenitsyn, which he did not. He dropped a brace of Vidal smart bombs – phrases such as “I once wrote a screenplay” and “when my father was in the Administration.” And he argued that the art of fiction was thoroughly, and perhaps irreparably, infected by the art of film. People were writing novels to remind us of old movies, and structuring them along the sleek lines of a good script. Within a few years of Vidal’s essay, Hollywood proved his point, turning several of the books that he pondered – The Eiger Sanction, The Odessa File, Semi-Tough, – into motion pictures: back to the womb, as it were, from which they sprang. There was even a birdbrained screen version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which a friend of mine, ignoring all warnings, paid to see. A fortnight later, he was sitting up and back on solids, but it was a close thing.

I think that is what Lowry was looking for in Meridian, or possibly what Lane found when he attempted to replicate Vidal’s footsteps:

And so on to No. 9, Disclosure, by Michael Crichton. This is what might be called an issue novel, something of a Crichton specialty. In his last two books, Jurassic Park and Rising Sun, the issues raised were, respectively, “Look out! Raptors!” and “Look out! Japs!” The new one is intended as a thoughtful, provocative, and altogether serious investigation of sexual harassment. In other words: “Look out! Women!” You can almost hear the ping inside the Crichton brain as the bright idea came to him: not just sexual harassment but sexual harassment with a twist, where the harassing is done by – you guessed it – a woman.

Sure it lacks the “power” of a McCarthy but its has both an issue and a simple beat that you can dance to.

I give it a five.

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