Has anyone read Cormac McCarthy's new novel? I finished it last week. I was pretty excited about it -- a load of glowing reviews talking about how he was getting back to his roots (whatever that means -- The Orchard Keeper, maybe?), and claiming that The Road was his greatest achievement besides Blood Meridian.
I started reading McCarthy in college, on the recommendation of Phil Jackson. This wasn't a personal recommendation -- I'd just read an article in which the Zen Master lauded some strange writer. So I picked up the first book I found at the library, All the Pretty Horses, and it stunned me: western myth, romantic, weird gnostic demons huddling in pools when characters puke, and oh those pure simple horses. Nothing personal, Grendel, but Gus McCrae just don't hold a candle to John Grady Cole. I read The Crossing and loved it, and then Blood Meridian, which still freaks me out. Then Suttree a couple years later, which sealed the deal (Outer Dark, Cities on the Plain, Child of God, and the aforementioned Orchard Keeper didn't much do it for me, at least in comparison). Anyway, McCarthy was for years my favorite living writer.
Then he stopped writing and I discovered Nabokov and I went to Iowa and one day Frank mentioned McCarthy. Frank didn't rail against CM or anything -- he just gleefully mocked him in class once, which was a little strange; but still, I thought, Blood Meridian: American Masterpiece. When that new book came out last year, I didn't read it -- it sounded stupid (a crazy guy running around killing people with a cattle prod?). But The Road intrigued me. Friends said it was great. The reviews were solid. So I picked it up.
Today, at this moment, my view has changed: I think McCarthy is at best a blip in American literature. I'm guessing other people who contribute here have always thought this -- maybe some haven't, though. I'd like to hear from anyone interested. For me, the thing about The Road (no plot spoilers, I promise) is that it's quintessential McCarthy only stripped down, and so the novel reveals the simplicity of his entire ouevre: he thinks Evil is everywhere and Good can fight it but will lose. Kierkegaard it ain't.
To me, The Road is like Blood Meridian but with only a couple 'characters', and now the physical world is itself the Judge (or maybe The Road is like The Crossing . . . or maybe Lester Ballard appears, or maybe we see the crazy killers from Outer Darkness . . . and so the derivations continue). The Road is McCarthy's philosophy -- that's a generous word -- laid out plain, and what it's made me realize is that all his books (save maybe Suttree?) are this same philosophy playing out in absurd circumstances. And also people are really good at rigging things by hand (I bet Cormac McCarthy, if he watched TV, loved MacGuyver.)
I remember another contributor on Earthgoat once being unimpressed by Borges's stories; if memory serves, he thought they were simple philosophies wrapped in fiction; but in my mind, at least Borges is playful. At least he laughs at himself a little. McCarthy is actually serious about himself. He takes his Magneto vs. Professor X vision with the utmost gravity, and now that I feel I can 'see' his project -- and more importantly, it's sad lack of complexity -- even that great book, my long time favorite, Blood Meridian, is little more than a childish indulgence.