Here we go:
Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing
Perhaps my dislike for this book stems from too much McCarthy in too short a period of time. No Country for Old Men, followed immediately by All The Pretty Horses and now this one which read, for the most part, as pastiche of his own style, lacking the subtlety and momentum of his previous works that made of his hard and idiosyncratic style a thing of pleasure to read. The narrative is more overtly philosophical than his previous tales, with the protagonist wandering about Mexico and encountering endless lonely figures who lecture him at length as to their own personal world view. The bonds between mankind are even more attenuated than ever, with only violence, lust, greed or blood holding them together. Failure is rampant, and McCarthy’s credo that if there is a God he is austere, distant, and unmoved by our plight has never read so brutally.
What annoyed me most, however, was how some of McCarthy’s favorite themes and settings began to feel hackneyed as he visited them over and over again. Here is a spoof, which, while terribly written, will give you an idea of what kept getting hammered into the reader over and over again:
The boy rode his horse into the village which was little more than a rude collection of mud huts bifurcated by a lane of mud along who’s sides sat old women like crudely cut blocks of wood before their sheet iron grills on which they cooked soot smeared tortillas. Their eyes were hollow as if some increate being from before the reckoning of mankind had gazed through their ocular cavities for too long and burned out their eyes so that only hollow spaces of void were left to gaze at the wonder of the world which was nothing because nothing is wonderful when you have no eyes. Hundreds children and dogs lined the streets and sat on the roofs of the mud huts and watched the boy ride into the town with silent mien and blank faces and not one of them stirred not one of them moved a muscle but all watched as if the boy presented unto them a spectacle worthy of silent study from which they might garner a measure of understanding of the unhallowed processes by which mankind proceeds through his life towards his final and ultimate destination which in truth is but the increate beginning from which all men stem and resembles unto that which all will go. A beautiful girl stuck her head out of a window and screamed and threw a pack of cards into the air and then disappeared from view. The boy observed all and then rode his horse clear through to the other side and departed the village leaving no trace of his passage but for the fading memories imprinted not indelibly because nothing has the grace or curse of being permanent in this world but rather in most transient manner on the minds of those silent figures who had observed him pass. One of the dogs barked and then exploded.
I know that there are countless philosophical screeds peppered throughout the novel which should they be analyzed would render all sorts of illuminating and thought provoking points, but honestly I was burned out. Plus everybody when pressed in McCarthy’s world pretty much can talk like an incredibly gifted philosophy Professor, from bandidos to gypsy girls to drunk soldiers to beggars. Everybody. Which, when contrasted to the near complete lack of dialogue elsewheres comes across as overly stylized and annoying.
I could go on, but I’m probably not doing the book justice and am merely displaying my McCarthy fatigue. Perhaps I’ll return to this existential and bleak novel in the future when I am restored, but not just yet.
The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross
Some more Stross to liven my days. His novels are a distinct pleasure to read, and this one was no different, blending the movie Office Space with Lovecraft and the classic Spy Thriller. You’ve got your tall redheaded dame who’s tough but in trouble, overbearing bosses and mind numbing bureaucracy, tentacled beasties lying just beyond the pale of our understanding, and a wry, intelligent protagonist who has to suffer through it all. What’s not to like? Tell the story in Stross’ masterful voice, blend in complex ideas which are somehow made easily intelligible, and you’ve got a great short novel with which to while away a couple of hours.