Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Crossing, by Cormic McCarthy

Well I've read a great book, The Crossing, by Cormic McCarthy, and I got off lightly this time.

One dealing with McCarthy has to deal with the violence of his books. I am not proud of the fact that I managed to finish my first McCarthy book, Blood Meridian. It is an endless stream of violence and atrocity. Of course I understand that it is based on an actual band of degenerates, but historical reality  does not justify a book's focus. The current tagline for the upcoming film is "Every man has a scalp" - I will not be watching this movie. Three of his books have made it to the screen before, All the Pretty Horses, the Road and the Academy Award winning No Country for Old Men. The last two rated R for violence, the first, All the Pretty Horses, not without a moment of horror.

I was thus strongly conditioned on starting The Crossing and was ill at ease through all of the book, because I felt for young Billy, and feared the worst. But McCarthy shows us some mercy this time. Should it be a spoiler to know that the protagonist is still above ground at the end of a book? I'm sure I will relax more into the next reading, perhaps to the detriment of the experience.

Two American teenage brothers wander into northern Mexico on horseback. Nineteenth century America, as I first imagined? No, 1938, but that's not a modern date in the West. And to cross into Mexico is truly to cross into a former century.

The story starts with a strong plot line which ends abruptly and completely on page 127. But there are still 298 pages left! The rest of the book never achieves quite the focused drama of the beginning, but I guess someone's mostly aimless wandering doesn't support plot. Never mind, its the crossing that matters not the destination.

McCarthy uses words in variant forms I've never heard of. Odd turns of phrase. "The night sky lies so sprint (sic) with stars that there is scarcely space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it is so that their numbers are not less."

McCarthy's storytelling is curious also for what he does and doesn't include. A doctor deals with a gunshot wound, the procedure is described with all the detail and attention of a zen tea ceremony. Reading up on saddlery and tacking a horse would be useful in following McCarthy's constant technical references regarding the chief means of transportation. A knowledge of Spanish, or at least a Spanish to English dictionary, would be helpful in understanding most of the direct dialogue. Far be it for him, in the midst of endless descriptions of the fauna and topography of the state of Chihuahua, the weather, the flight of birds and the movement of the trees, to give us any direct cues as to what the main character, Billy Parham, or any other human for that matter, is feeling. I mean most of the conversations are in a foreign language! All characters seem wrapped in a stoicism complete, although any person encountered is game to launch into a long and unlikely and inconclusive monologue (seemingly important as its in English) about God's nature, predestination, freewill, sin, how we come to know the world, and other such philosophical topics, while eating their last stale tortilla. The one time McCarthy finally drops his guard and someone actually bursts into tears comes as an explosion, and almost serves as the climax.

In the midst are the poor of Mexico in their rags. The endless acts of kindness as those who have almost nothing share with those who have nothing. But then that's my conclusion, McCarthy seems to have no opinions to clutter up his creation, the reader has lots of space to fill in.

So why is it a great book? McCarthy is a great writer. Read just the first two pages.

I'd like to try Moby Dick now, as it seems McCarthy is often compared to Melville.

But dare I read more McCarthy?