Jane Eyre packing heat at Lowood. Vigilante justice in Goodnight Moon. Redemptive violence in Green Eggs and Ham. Drug-war shootouts in Little Women. A trigger-happy Jim Burden snarling: "My Antonia? Bye, Antonia!" Waiting to Exhale? It's a long wait when your brains have been blown out. Beloved? Make that beheaded.
Yup, it would be quite a literary world if all books contained as much mayhem as Cormac McCarthy novels.
I think McCarthy, who turned 78 last month, is one of the best authors of the past half-century. His books contain neo-Biblical narration, stunningly lyrical descriptions of landscapes, iconic/laconic characters, and terse dialogue ("What have you done for him?"/"Aint done nothin"/"What do you want me to do for him?"/"Aint asked you to do nothin"/"That's good, because there aint nothin to be done"). But, man, all that violence!
For instance, McCarthy's Blood Meridian -- the source of the above dialogue -- is one of the bloodiest "serious" novels ever written. Heads are split, innocent bystanders are blown apart with powerful bullets, people and dogs are agonizingly burned to death, hapless mules are pushed off cliffs, etc. After reading McCarthy's take on the unspeakably evil acts perpetrated by a group of depraved 19th-century American marauders from the Old West, I queasily figured it was better to write this post than try to eat breakfast.
Of McCarthy's nine other books, I've read these seven: The Road, No Country for Old Men, Outer Dark, The Orchard Keeper, and the "Border Trilogy" of All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain. These titles don't feature quite as many sickos as Blood Meridian, but their pages still include plenty of death, brutality, and brutal death.
The renowned McCarthy is not a sadist; rather, he's depicting mankind's real-life violent nature (in the past and, by extension, the present) as well as humankind's often short, sorrowful lives. And he's such a stupendous writer that I keep coming back for more despite the gore, cruelty, degradation, suffering, blatant shortage of prominent women characters, and depressing depictions of casual and not-so-casual racism (including liberal use of the vile "N"-word). But ... I'm still not ready for breakfast.
Got any ideas for "McCarthy-ized" books? Here are a few more of mine: Lad: a Psycho. Crazed Canadian cannibals in Anne of Green Gables. Gut-spilling genocide in Tender Is the Night. The Message in a Bottle message: "Eat lead." A Clint-channeling Colette character growling, "Make my Break of Day!" The Life of Pi tiger gassed after being "glassed" (a Cormac-ian word for looking through binoculars). A Time to Love and a Time to Die? More like A Time to Die REPEATEDLY.
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