08 August 2005

Cormac McCarthy

Although I've read most of Cormac McCarthy's work, Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West somehow slipped by me, so I'm reading it now as a warm up to McCarthy's latest novel, No Country for Old Men, which I'll read next.

McCarthy writes about men as he believes they are underneath the pretense of civilization. Every time I read him, I'm shocked anew at the bleakness of his vision, not that mine is any less bleak. Here's a scrap of the meeting between the kid and Toadvine:

When he woke it was daylight and the rain had stopped and he was looking up into the face of a man with long hair who was completely covered in mud. The man was saying something to him.

What? said the kid.

I said are you quits?


Quits. Cause if you want some more of me you sure as hell goin to get it.

He looked at the sky. Very high, very small, a buzzard. He looked at the man. Is my neck broke? he said.

The man looked out over the lot and spat and looked at the boy again. Can you not get up?

I don’t know. I aint tried.

I never meant to break your neck.


I meant to kill ye.

They aint nobody done it yet. He clawed at the mud and pushed himself up. The man was sitting on the planks with his boots alongside him. They aint nothin wrong with you, he said.

The kid looked about stiffly at the day. Where’s my boots? he said.

The man squinted at him. Flakes of dried mud fell from his face.

I’m goin to have to kill some son of a bitch if they got my boots.

Yonder looks like one of em.

The kid labored off through the mud and fetched up one boot. He slogged about in the yard feeling likely lumps of mud.

This your knife? he said.

The man squinted at him. Looks like it, he said.

The kid pitched it to him and he bent and picked it up and wiped the huge blade on his trouserleg. Thought somebody’d done stole you, he told the knife.

The kid found his other boot and came and sat on the boards. His hands were huge with mud and he wiped one of them briefly at his knee and let it fall again.

They sat there side by side looking out across the barren lot. There was a picket fence at the edge of the lot and beyond the fence a boy was drawing water at a well and there were chickens in the yard there. A man came from the dramshop door down the walk toward the outhouse. He stopped where they sat and looked at them and then stepped off into the mud. After a while he came back and stepped off into the mud again and went around and on up the walk.

The kid looked at the man. His head was strangely narrow and his hair was plastered up with mud in a bizarre and primitive coiffure. On his forehead were burned the letters H T and lower and almost between the eyes the letter F and these markings were splayed and garish as if the iron had been left too long. When he turned to look at the kid the kid could see that he had no ears. He stood up and sheathed the knife and started up the walk with the boots in his hand and the kid rose and followed.

Halfway to the hotel the man stopped and looked out at the mud and then sat down on the planks and pulled on the boots mud and all. Then he rose and slogged off through the lot to pick something up.

I want you to look here, he said. At my goddamned hat.

You couldn’t tell what it was, something dead. He flapped it about and pulled it over his head and went on and the kid followed.

McCarthy is also a prose stylist whose gifts are rarely matched:

Now wolves had come to follow them, great pale lobos with yellow eyes that trotted neat of foot or squatted in the shimmering heat to watch them where they made their noon halt. Moving on again. Loping, sidling, ambling with their long noses to the ground. In the evening their eyes shifted and winked out there on the edge of the firelight and in the morning when the riders rode out in the cool dark they could hear the snarling and the pop of their mouths behind them as they sacked the camp for meatscraps.

The wagons drew so dry they slouched from side to side like dogs and the sand was grinding them away. The wheels shrank and the spokes reeled in their hubs and clattered like loom-shafts and at night they’d drive false spokes into the mortices and tie them down with strips of green hide and they’d drive wedges between the iron of the tires and the suncracked felloes. They wobbled on, the trace of their untrue labors like sidewinder tracks in the sand. The duledge pegs worked loose and dropped behind. Wheels began to break up.

[felloes: pieces of wood composing the rim of a wheel; duledge pegs: dowels joining the ends of the felloes that form the circle of a wheel]


  1. Rob Trott21:42

    Carol, this guy is incredible. Why didn't you tell me about his writing before. I know, I know, not your job. Anyway, what happened to you coming down for a boat ride? Guess I'll come play golf.

  2. I haven't read him. This is really mesmerizing. How are ya?