Thursday, August 16, 2007

By the mouth of two witnesses

I once wrote on this blog that Cormack Mcarthy's The Road is a great book and that everyone should read it. Or something. It is a great book and everyone should read it. My taste in books is now vindicated by the illustrious Eric Snider. He has some positive comments on The Road at his blog.


Kjerstin said...

So as far as violence in literature goes: The Road is not violent as far as McCarthy goes, but is still intensely graphic, no? I looove and adore MCarthy's prose, including his violence. It's beautiful stuff--exact and tense, gives me chills. I guess my question is how do you cats feel about this? Beautiful violence? I guess the question I don't want to ask is should I feel guilty for loving McCarthy's prose so much? Thoughts?

Kjerstin said...

Also, Oprah thinks so too.

JKC said...

The Road is not violent, really. There are one or two scenes that are graphic and do chill the blood and maybe turn the stomach, but overall it is kind of a slow story.

The violent/graphic is an interesting (and important?) distinction. Graphic, to me anyway, is a vivid and detailed description, but the word also carries a hint of something wrong. The thing vividly described is something forbidden, which in our culture usually means sex or physical harm.

Violent on the other hand is fast and hard. It doesn't necessarily have to be about physical harm. You can have violent prose about a non-violent subject. For example, (and this isn't prose, but film is an analogue) there some scenes from Cinderella Man that are very violent, but not really that graphic. Conversely, The Passion contains some extremely graphic images, but the generally slow pace and lack of quick cuts makes a film that isn't really violent.

So McCarthy's prose is not always violent. It is about violent subjects, often, and often graphic as well. Maybe it is just his prose that is beautiful, not his violence.

The thing I like about the violence in McCarthy is that it is not embellished. It simply states what is. Like the knife fight in the Mexican jail in All the Pretty Horses. It's over before you even realize what happened and you think "what? he didn't even warn us that that was coming!" and then the significance kind of sinks in after the fact. I don't find the violence beautiful, I find it haunting. I say haunting because there is a lingering guilt after the initial shock. The genius of it, I think, is that it strips away all the Die Hard-esque Hollywood trappings of violence and makes you look at it the way it is: initially seductive but ultimately unglorious and wasteful.

By the way, on the same subject, have you read Tim O'Brien? I'm specifically thinking of "How to Tell a True War Story."

Amanda said...

I have only read "All the Pretty Horses" as of yet (though I'll soon read "The Road" in Trent Hickman's 365, for those who know the man), but I agree with you guys so far as I can.

I think an important distinction can be made between the violence we find in McCarthy's books and the mass-produced kind of violence Jared refers to. I often ask myself whether the violence is gratuitous. I'm offended by the violence in crappy action flicks because it's desensitizing and often over-the-top or unnecessary altogether. When I come across a worthwhile book or movie, though, the violence offends me, yes, but in a way that is almost re-sensitizing. Does that make any sense?

I actually studied Tim O'Brien a bit my senior year of high school after reading "The Things They Carried" and "In the Lake of the Woods." It has been a while but I do recall that O'Brien's ability to convey the pit-in-your-stomach kind of violence that leaves you feeling a bit hollow is, as Jared says, haunting. The haunting feeling usually gives way to reflection and sometimes even healthy motivation, though. I'll have to look into "How to Tell a True War Story"--I think the way O'Brien uses lies to tell the truth is fascinating.