Old Men and Women
When Joyce Carol Oates reviewed Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, No Country for Old Men, she pulled no punches. In a lengthy diatribe in the New York Review of Books that completely misses the point of this book, she excoriates McCarthy for creating a world "suffused with the malevolent Eros of male violence."
Well, apart from her short stories, I've tried to read only one of Oates' books, We Were the Mulvaneys. She disses McCarthy for writing about "physical violence with an attentiveness found in no other serious writer I know of except Sade," but she herself has to answer for an attentiveness to deeply lyrical and detailed descriptions of rape that I just can't get through.
There's something surface and outside about McCarthy's violence. I'm not downplaying it, just trying to describe why I find it so easy to read. He writes randomness and surprise into the violent acts, at least in the five books of his that I've read (this one, Blood Meridian, and the Border Trilogy). In his world, there is usually no logic to death and suffering. Perhaps this is escapist, but it satisfies some need I have.
In any case, this latest book gives me to opportunity to confess a continued attraction that I have for cheap thrillers written by Alistair MacLean, Jack Higgins, John Creasey, and the like. Finally, I get to read one that actually has some art to it but that still retains the detailed descriptions of firepower and dark "special-forces" careers.
It also has some useful things to say about life, America, and the world. Here's an old man recalling the prevalence of violent episodes in the history of his West Texas family:
"This country was hard on people. But they never seemed to hold it to account. In a way that seems peculiar. That they didnt. You think about what all has happened to just this one family. I dont know what I’m doin here still knocking around. All them young people. We dont know where half of em is even buried at. You got to ask what was the good in all that. So I go back to that. How come people dont feel like this country has got a lot to answer for? They dont. You can say that the country is just the country, it dont actively do nothin, but that dont mean much. I seen a man shoot his pickup truck with a shotgun one time. He must of thought it done somethin. This country will kill you in a heartbeat and still people love it. You understand what I’m sayin?"