onsdag, november 22, 2006

No Country For Old Men

I feel a bit like a nesting doll in reverse, like I've thrown aside this larger outer shell for a previous version of myself. One in which I read things with a rather fierce eye on form in novels.

In that former life, I rarely finished books. I've gone back to only a few of them to read their endings. Time and again, I read until I felt I'd taken from a book the tricks and truth of its writing--the writer within, not the person but the creative drive and the center of that story's universe: intellectual/artistic voyeurism.

And then with that energy I'd return to my notepads and printed sheets and vagrant scraps--an endless sea in search of a shore--and I'd write. All hours. All stories. Nothing found completion.

But that was years ago. I've calmed much since and my writing has improved.

No Country For Old Men

Maybe it's because I am determined to send things out and publish now. Maybe it's because I'm watching All-Story and One-Story with something of a childish desperation. Reject or accept the stories, friends, but make up your mind. Just put me out of one sort of misery. That's all.

I shouldn't read McCarthy in this environment, but maybe that's why I do. Maybe it's been that wait and finding within a strange sort of confidence in the recent work, a notion that maybe I've made, as we sometimes say, the turn. The work has turned. Maybe that's what leads me here to all this rambling, though my long rambling record of evidence suggests it's just another case of my brain turning over in its sleep and these thoughts are just the heat that escapes.

Maybe that's what had steered me back to reading Cormac McCarthy, someone I wouldn't read other than for form...though in No Country For Old Men he's certainly having a great time with the thriller genre.

The thriller genre is a gas, indeed. I don't dislike thrillers at all. I wish more dramatic writers (literary writers) read them. They could learn more than a few things, just as thriller authors could learn from higher literature.

Back Into Form, Sort Of

I don't know why we have the brief, italicized, first-person chapter openings from the sheriff. They go on too long and make me think back to Hemingway's In Our Time, which uses a similar anecdotal device and to a similarly less-affecting-than-intended result. I guess with McCarthy I feel it makes the thriller too slick, for we have first-person narration that seems to be overhearing our third person narration.

He seems to respond to it, but to be somewhat unaware of it too. Is this to be a conversation (or argument) with god? Is this a third person narrator (independent of the writer) who has at his tools the first and third person accounts and is trying to be clever about mixing them?

The book would be deadly boring, certainly, if it was all first person. And if it was all third it might be as exhausting as Child of God, or at least lead some of us to say, "Cormac, buddy, we have all been here together before. Have you forgotten what happened in Eastern Tennessee?"

Or is this structure to suggest the whole goddamn book is the fantasy of the sheriff? his black fantasy of how things must have unfolded? That would be fine with me. The man's just fillin' in the pieces for himself. I just don't know why the narrative would try to hide that.

I don't know, man. It's a bleak book. A breathless read. It's good, but it's tiring. By page 150 (of 300) I wondered how he could scrape along for another 150, seeing as he'd just about killed off everyone the book had introduced. (The novel reads like a countrified Scarface.) I said to my dad, "There are only two people left to kill here unless we introduce more characters." Soon enough, one of those two was bumped off.

Yes, McCarthy has his fun. And he makes it fun. I won't deny that. And he's probably smart about how he makes it fun: dialogue. The further in one wades the more dialogue one encounters. And it's quick dialogue. Too glossy. But then it strikes with a line too powerful to be part of anything unless it's up to its eyeballs in a great deal of over-stylized banter.

You can't try for the fences on every sentence. You have to give us a break. You have to give us many of them when you write so many lines to stand out like that.

So you see? Everything I find ill about the book is what makes it seem to work. That's what bothers me. It bothers me as Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianist arrogance bothers me. (My recollection is that Bentham felt one could not make a decision that wasn't actually utilitarian. That's like being called defensive. What the fuck can you do then?)

Can the novel's faults or annoying points make it work? I don't know if that's too clever. It probably is.

I do know that a murder that takes place about 50 pages from the end just made me angry and sad about the writing, about the whole conception of the story. It was tough for me after that point to finish. But I slogged through the final 50, and I feel all right for it.

Maybe It's This

All that dialogue seems like a writer's escapism, like a way not to write. I read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity once, or I read much of it. Then I saw the film and it was as if the actors were just reading straight from the text. That book became, like Annie Proulx's Accordian Crimes, a window stop. I didn't even close the window during storms. I let the water come in and soak the pages.

But in No Country For Old Men, the story is just too damn dark, even though the read is really swift. There's something to all that dialogue I'm trying to puzzle out.

It's this: the further in you wander, the more you lose your senses. Maybe that's the point: the desensitized world. The old sheriff hits upon that matter more than a few times: the loss of manners, growing drug use, the problems in school shifting from cheating and apathy to arson, rape, and weapons concerns, etc.

In this novel, you pretty much lose all your senses, save for sound. All you have are the voices of characters surrounded by an absolute shitstorm. All you're given are voices trying to connect. Those voices carry the truth, and they carry hope, and they carry with them tidings from hell.

Regardless, they are voices that emerge from darkness.
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