(1933 - ) American novelist, winner of the National Book Award for All the Pretty Horses. McCarthy's later novels are mostly westerns set in the late ninteenth century or the early 1900's, dealing with themes of death, redemption through violence, religious allegory and good versus evil. Earlier work focuses more on the South. I think McCarthy may be the greatest living American novelist.

Partial bibliography:

The Orchard Keeper, 1965
Suttree, 1979
Blood Meridian, 1985
All the Pretty Horses, 1992
The Crossing, 1994
Cities of the Plain, 1998

See http://www.mid.tec.sc.us/edu/ed/eng/biblio.htm for a bibliography of work about McCarthy

N.B. I’ll start this article by briefly summarizing McCarthy’s bio, before continuing on a slightly more personal level and providing a brief description of his style as a writer.

 

Cormac McCarthy 


Cormac McCarthy (originally named Charles after his father) is an award winning American writer, known for a number of novels including Blood Meridian, All The Pretty Horses, No Country For Old Men, and The Road. Many of his works have been critically praised and he has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the U.S. National Book Award.

Born in Rhode Island on July 20, 1933, McCarthy was raised in a Roman Catholic setting, moving a number of times as his family followed his father's employment. Initially, he read liberal arts at the University of Tennessee before joining the U.S. Air Force for a number of years. While he was based in Alaska, he performed his own radio show. His first literary success came upon his return to the university where he won a number of awards for his writing.

He wrote his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, while working as a mechanic before travelling to Ireland and across parts of Europe. He sent the novel to Random House for publication, as it was “the only publisher that he had heard of”. Interestingly, the editor at Random House, Albert Erskine, was also William Faulkner’s editor. Faulkner is one of McCarthy’s primary influences. Following this, he returned to America where the remainder of his novels and screenplays have been written. Up until the publication of All The Pretty Horses, McCarthy did not have a particularly wide audience, and the majority of the money he needed to support his writing came in the form of grants. In an interview with Oprah, he recalls that during hard times money would always show when he really needed it. He recalls a story when he couldn’t afford to purchase toothpaste and he received a free sample with a magazine in the post. I have noticed on a number of websites that review works of literature an air of surprise that McCarthy would choose to give an interview with Oprah. Many people saw it as an ironic move for someone who is naturally reticent about giving interviews, although the benefits of the resulting increased publicity are clear and understandable.

Following the success of the Border Trilogy, in 2005 the Coen brothers adapted No Country For Old Men into a film which won four Academy Awards. The Road was adapted for film in 2009.

McCarthy’s most recent work, announced in early 2012, is a screenplay directed by Ridley Scott titled ‘The Counselor’, with Brad Pitt having allegedly been sighted on set.

 

McCarthy’s Writing Style


Before I comment too much on his style, Blood Meridian is, in my opinion, the epitome of McCarthy’s work to date. If sections appear biased towards it, then try your best to forgive me. ;)

I think that in recent years many people have become aware of McCarthy as a result of The Road, a post-apocalyptic tale following a father and his son in their efforts to survive. While it is certainly an incredible piece of literature, often touching, terrifying and completely fascinating, I personally feel that his previous works are a little less, hmm, perhaps sentimental. While one could certainly argue that sentimentality is exactly what is missing from some of his other works, maybe sentimentality isn’t the correct word that I’m looking for, it’s not quite right, but anyway, what I’m trying to say is if you haven’t done so already, investigate his other works as many of them have a far richer, grittier and more plangent form of expression than The Road…in my opinion. But how could I possibly dislike such mellifluous prose as this:

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” – The Road

McCarthy has a very idiosyncratic literary style, with perhaps the closest influences coming from William Faulkner. A number of his novels have endings with events that are left open to various interpretations, with specific examples including Blood Meridian and The Road. McCarthy often uses long sentences with a minimalist approach towards using punctuation, refraining from using speech marks or semi-colons, resulting in an effect that often matches many of the landscapes that provide the backdrop for his novels. Maybe it takes some getting used to, maybe it doesn’t. Here is a typical example:

 

"It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire. The solitary pilgrim drawn up before it had traveled far to be here and he knelt in the hot sand and held his numbed hands out while all about in that circle attended companies of lesser auxiliaries routed forth into the inordinate day, small owls that crouched silently and stood from foot to foot and tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders and beaded lizards with mouths black as a chowdog's, deadly to man, and the little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes and the small sandvipers like seemly gods, silent and the same, in Jeda, in Babylon. A constellation of ignited eyes that edged the ring of light all bound in a precarious truce before this torch whose brightness had set back the stars in their sockets." – Blood Meridian

 

While writing and researching Blood Meridian, McCarthy learned Spanish and has since utilized it heavily in a number of his novels, in particular the Border Trilogy (All The Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain). In my experience, the novels often work well if you have access to a translator on Google or similar, although he only really decorates the novels with Spanish and no significant context is lost if one doesn’t translate. 

McCarthy has previously stated that he does not really “understand” writers who don’t “deal with issues of life and death”. “To me,” he says, “that’s not literature.”  Perhaps one of the best examples of McCarthy’s handling of the subject of life and death, although it runs clearly through each novel, is expressed by his character, Judge Holden, from Blood Meridian. The critic Harold Bloom has described the Judge as the personification of death; an all wise, all knowing character who is “violence incarnate,” and “the most frightening figure in all of American literature.” It appears as if the extensive research conducted for writing Blood Meridian resulted in a binding of America’s historic violence with the cliché of the old romantic west, creating the anti-western.

 

"This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god." – Judge Holden, Blood Meridian.

 

An overall feeling of McCarthy’s style, if possible to describe tersely at all, is probably, if you’ll forgive the juxtaposition, beautifully lugubrious. He is both lyrical and has also been accused by Professor Hungerford of Yale University as sometimes being quite boring. Personally, his work has an intoxicatingly salubrious affect on me. An example of such a moment:

 

“He thought the world's heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.” – All The Pretty Horses

 

 

Bibliography


This list includes all of McCarthy’s novels in chronological order of publication. It does not include any planned or rumored works.

 

Sources and Information

·      http://www.cormacmccarthy.com

·      His novels

·      http://www.goodreads.com

·      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/screen-talk-more-doors-open-for-dormer-8026715.html

·      http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/movies/news/a396959/michael-fassbender-films-the-counselor-in-london-first-pictures.html

·      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cuccco2umo

·      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgyZ4ia25gg

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