Cormac McCarthy

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Cormac McCarthy (USA, 1933)

"Child of God" (1973)

synopsis forthcoming

"Suttree" (1979) ++ left behind the Faulkner-ian style and topics of his early novels and ventured into a beat-like journey of the underworld. Like with much beat literature, the "novel" is really only a collection of short stories. There is minimal effort to penetrate the psychology of the characters, including the very protagonist. The novel is, basically, a "mood piece", a fresco of a community of outcasts, and little more. McCarthy's language ranges from the sub-literate (particularly in the dialogues) to the highly poetic (particularly in his descriptions of city decadence). Basically, the real character of the novel is the location itself, this fantastic world nested between the city and the river.

Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree lives on a houseboat by the river, and makes a living out of fishing. His neighbors are mostly bums, thieves, drunkards. His uncle comes to visit him and we learn that Suttree has just been released from jail. A flashback tells how a teenager, Gene Harrogate, was caught by a farmer having sex with watermelons, shot and arrested. He ended up in the same prison with Suttree. Now that he has also been released from prison, Harrogate looks for and finds Suttree, and decides to settle in the same area.
Jim "J-Bone" tells him that his son is dead. Suttree travels to the funeral, but the wife he abandoned doesn't want him there. He is expelled from the town. Back to his friends, he gets drunk and in a fight. That seems to be the routine of his life.
Harrogate comes up with different ways to cheat the government, but he is too clumsy to succeed. First he makes money by collecting rewards for dead bats, but eventually gets caught. Then he discovers a way to crawl underground to the bank's vault, and tries to blow up the wall, but only manages to hurt himself.
Leonard, another friend of Suttree, cheats the government by keeping his dead father hidden in the house, so the government keeps sending the cheque for him. Suttree helps him dump the body in the river.
One day he meets a family. He does business with the father, and makes love to one of the daughters. He and her are stuck for days during a major storm. Eventually, the cliff collapses and she is killed.
Things change, and never for the better. Friends die or disperse. Daddy Watson, a railway worker, disappears. Billy Callahan is murdered. J-Bone moves elsewhere.
Suttree moves to town and rents a room. He hooks up with a prostitute, who trusts him with her money. More of his friends die. The only that doesn't change is Harrogate's attempts at cheating the government: this time he found a way to steal money from telephone boots. It works for a while, but eventually he is arrested.
Suttree visits his aunt Alice who lives in a madhouse. He gets sick with typhoid fever and almost dies. When he recovers and is released from the hospital, he finds that the city is building new roads in his neighborhood. He finds a dead body in his houseboat. So he decides it is time to take a bus and relocate somewhere else.

"Blood Meridian" (1985) +

synopsis forthcoming

"All the Pretty Horses" (1992) +, the first installment of the border trilogy, narrates the picaresque adventures of a runaway teenager. McCarthy indulges in his orphaned sentences that begin with ambiguous pronouns and that can sometimes be annoying. However, his hyper-realistic descriptions of situations and actions is captivating (in fact, most of the book is the detailed minute description of what is happening rather than the "happening" itself). These feel like 360-degree takes by a movie camera. The cowboy slang and rhythm is evoked by the same narrating voice that basically has a hidden psychological quality.

John Grady, a 16-years old Texas cowboy, would like to get his grandfather's ranch but the old man bequeathed it to "her" (his mother?) and she, who lives in the city, wants none of the prairie life. His mother and his father separated when he was still a child. John Grady was raised by Mexican servants and speaks fluent Spanish. Now his mother is an actress and John Grady attends one of her theater performances. His father would like John Grady to reconnect with his mother but John Grady doesn't seem to care. In fact, John Grady and his cousin Rawlins have decided to leave town. His former girlfriend Mary Catherine would like to remain friends but he is bitter towards her. She is the only one who knows that he is leaving. JG and Rawlins ride their horses out of town and head for Mexico. Along the way another teenager, Blevins, joins them, riding a much better horse and with no real explanation. They cross into Mexico. Blevins, who is terrified by lighting (that has struck several of his family members), loses his horse, his clothes and his pistol in a storm. JG and, reluctantly, Rawlins help him steal back his horse from the Mexicans who found it. Chased by a posse, the three decide to part ways. JG and Rawlins reach a ranch and get hired as cowboys, mainly attracted by a cute girl, Alejandra, the daughter of the landowner. Her father likes JG and promotes him, unaware that JG has fallen in love with Alejandra, who mostly lives in the city with her mother but likes the ranch better. She is rich and goes to a fancy school, and her grandaunt Alfonsa warns JG not to tarnish her reputation. JG seems to have no chances and suffers, but instead the girl suddenly gives herself to him.
Then one night the Mexican police arrest JG and Rawlins. They are taken to a jail where the childish Blevins is detained too: he ended up killing a police officer while attempting to recover his pistol, and has been in jail for a long time. The captain interrogates them and does not believe their story. The three prisoners are taken to an isolated place and then the captain allows the brother of the slain officer to summarily execute Blevins. JR and Rawlins are taken to a prison in which anarchy reigns. They are beaten on a daily basis. One of the prisoners, Perez, rules the camp: he lives in a house with a butler and has the power to gain a prisoner's freedom. JG and Rawlins refuse to bribe him and Rawlins is stabbed and taken away. Left to fend for himself, JG buys a knife with his last pesos and uses it to defend himself when attacked by a hired assassin. JG kills the assailant but is wounded badly. Surprisingly, he is helped by Perez himself, who is also a philosopher of sorts. Days later JG is released and surprised to find Rawlins in good health and with money: it turns out that the grandaunt has paid for their freedom and of course it must have been because of Alejandra's desire to save JG. Rawlins has had enough and heads home, across the border, but JG is determined to find out about Alejandra's feelings for him and, if nothing else, to get back his horse and Rawlins' horse.
When he reaches the ranch, the grandaunt is ready to confront him. She paid for his freedom but only to please Alejandra and in return Alejandra had to promise not to marry him. In a long ten-page detour the 73-years old woman narrates how she befriended the democratic revolutionaries in her youth and survived the bloody military coup only because her rich father sent her to study in England. (This detour seems to serve the only purpose to show that McCarthy can write in elegant English when he wants to and not only in cowboy slang). JG is stubborn as usual: he phones Alejandra and talks into meeting her at a train station. Alejandra tells him that the grandaunt guessed their love story and then Alejandra preempted her and directly told her father. Unbeknownst to JG and Rawlins, her father had already interceded with the police to save JG and Rawlins from the investigation, but now he let the police arrest them. Alejandra is devastated because she feels that her father stopped loving her. JG swears eternal love and they make love in a hotel but the following day she chooses her family over him. He walks her to the train station.
Now JG heads back to the town where they were taken by the police. Armed with his pistol, he kidnaps the captain who had Blevins killed and forces him to reveal where his horse is. JG enters the ranch holding the captain hostage and leaves it with all three horses, but also bleeding profusely after being shot by one of the rancher's men. Still holding the captain hostage, JG flees chased by six riders. (The escape is told in minute details).
He burns his wound and even straightens the dislocated shoulder of the captain. Three men get him one night but they are only interested in the captain (bandits? revolutionaries?) and let JG go with his horses. JG finally crosses the river back into Texas. He is mistaken for a horse thief but a good judge believes his story. JG tries to find the owner of Blevins' horse but to no avail. He even visits a pastor named Blevins who runs a radio show and has gained a reputation for miracles. Finally, he arrives at Rawlins' ranch and delivers the horse to his friend. Rawlins tells him that his dead died. JG doesn't want to see his mother, doesn't feel like this is his country anymore. He only visits the tomb of the old Mexican servant who raised three generations of his family and then rides into the red hot desert.

The very bleak, dystopian, apocalyptic tale of "The Road" (2006) + is a bit too melodramatic and sentimental, but still written in a highly elaborate and evocative language. Some pages feel like creative inventories of objects.

A man and a child are wandering in a burnt landscape, pushing a cart, carrying knapsacks, hiding from dangerous people. The man has a pistol and searches the landscape with binoculars. The world is covered with ashes and the days are dark. They enter towns that have been burned down, where there is no sign of life. They are heading south but they have to climb a pass and are caught in rain storms and snow storms. They stop briefly to check the house where the man was raised. The earth is shaken by an earthquake. The man dreams of his dead wife. She killed herself because she was sure that they would be attacked, she and the child would be raped, and they would be even eaten. They constantly have to worry about being spotted by others. One day they see a man, badly burned by lightning. The child would like to help but his father explains that there is nothing they can do for him. He is going to die anyway. All clocks stopped at 1:17. The child was born when the cities were already burning. The father tells the child that all his friends are dead. One day they run into a gang with a diesel truck. The father has to shoot one of them and then run with the child, abandoning his cart. They successfully avoid the gang but their cart is plundered. The child is traumatized. The father realizes that he killed the first man he spoke to in more than a year. They don't have food anymore. They venture into a town where they can see signs of life. The inhabitants, if any, hide from them. The child catches a glimpse of another child. The father searches in vain all the stores: they have all been plundered of anything useful. He can only cook some food that rats have not completely consumed and that's not enough. They see a ragtag army pass by and hide from it. It snows again. After five days with no food and little sleep, the father is bold enough to break into a house and pry open a door that has been carefully locked, hoping to find food. Inside they find imprisoned starving naked men and women who beg them for help. The father grabs the child and runs away. They narrowly avoid a group of people who is marching towards the home. There is only one bullet left in the pistol and the father tries to teach the child how to kill himself if they are captured. The father finds apples near a farmhouse and notices the smell of a cow in the barn. Cows are supposed to be extinct. They eat the apple and continue their journey. The child guesses why those people were imprisoned: they were going to be eaten by the group outside. The child asks the father to promise that they will never eat people. The father promises: they are the good guys. Days later the father is beginning to accept that they will die of starvation when they run into a house that has a hidden bunker in which all sorts of goods have been stored. Suddenly, they have more food than they need. Whoever stocked it, have died. The problem is that the house is very visible and soon it will be found by others. After a couple of days, they load what they can and leave. They are headed for the coast and they still have a few weeks to go. The landscape is constantly covered with ash and swept by howling winds of ash when it doesn't rain. They meet on the road an old starving man who is going blind. The boy insists on giving him food but the old man doesn't even thank them. He tells them that "There is no God and we are his prophets". The father and child continue their journey and find a train, probably abandoned after it ran out of fuel. The father, who has been coughing all the time, falls sick for a few days. When they resume their journey, he is very weak and they are running out of food again. They find mummies on the road, burned alive when the fire swept through the plain. One day they spot three men and a pregnant woman walking behind them and hide to let them go ahead. Later they spot their camp and approach. The foursome has left in a hurry, probably seeing that the father carries a pistol. They left something cooking on the fire. The boy find a headless charred child: that's what they were eating. They run out of food again and starve for several days but then stumble into a well-stocked home and spend four days there while it rains outside. Finally, they reach the coast. The child is disappointed that the ocean is not blue: it is gray, covered with ashes like everything else. They find a boat. The father leaves the pistol to the child and boards the boat. He finds a lot of useful stuff, including food, a firepistol and a first-aid kit. But the child loses the pistol on the beach. By the time the father finds the pistol again, it is dark and they are caught in a storm. They barely make it back to their cart and their tarp, but the father's coughing gets worse and he begins to admit to himself that he is dying. The child gets sick too but recovers. They enjoy a couple of relaxing days but then someone steals their cart and everything they have except the pistol. They follow the bootprints until they find the thief. The father forces the thief at gunpoint to surrender the cart, then, in revenge, he forces the thief to strip naked and steals everything the thief has. The thief begs in vain. The child cries and asks his father not to be so cruel. But the father leaves the thief naked and drags the child away. The child keeps sobbing, arguing that the thief is just a starving man like them, so eventually the father decides to return the clothes to the thief but the thief is nowhere to be found anymore, They reach a coastal town where they are suddenly attacked: someone shoots an arrow and wounds the father. The father shoots back with the firepistol. The father then enters the building and only finds a woman, abandoned by the archer. The father is now also bleeding copiously and the first-aid kit is only useful to disinfect the wound. The father and the child resume the march but the father is now limping. He can't push the cart anymore. When they find a suitcase, they pack the essentials in the suitcase. Eventually the father collapses and dies overnight. The child prepares to continue the journey alone when a man appears, carrying a shotgun. The stranger is a good man and takes the child to his wife and his children. The child bids farewell to his father at the beach.

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