Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reader's Diary #277- Cormac McCarthy: The Road (up to p. 145)

I'm probably the last person in the book blogging world to talk about this book. So I dont think I have much in the way of original thought to add. Maybe that I'm sitting on the fence so far is a little out of the norm, but I'm sure if I dug deep enough I'd find plenty of those people as well.

Some people seem to dislike it because Oprah likes it. Notice that I intentionally picked a copy with her seal of approval. I havent been a big fan of her choices (I'm not big on William Faulkner and I hated House of Sand And Fog), but the aversion to her infamous sticker has made me giggle. More on that at Sam's and Imani's. Just for fun, the list of past Oprah choices is available here. Asides from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the Dubus book mentioned above and Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees, I havent read any of her other past choices. Which ones have you read?

Scanning through the non-Oprah related issues that people have with the book, I agree with some complaints and not so much with others. One of the most frequent beefs seems to be it's bleakness. As a huge fan of Saramago's Blindness, I obviously dont have an aversion to bleak. My issue with McCarthy's book is how bleak is handled. Before I get into that, the similarities to Blindness are a little too much for me. Perhaps this is a case of enjoying whichever one you read first, but what I appreciated with Saramago's book has made me weary of McCarthy's. In Blindness Saramago is able to crush the reader's spirits (and I say that as a good thing!) by making the tragedy descend; just when you think it cant get any worse, it does. In McCarthy's book the tragedy is stagnant for the most part. On almost every page it mentions that the land is covered with ash and the surroundings are almost entirely gray. The relentlessness I suppose could be taken as a style, perhaps not unlike a sestina, and it could be argued that it's meant to make the reader feel the same as the characters. To me however, it's simply boring and predictable. He looked out of the window and guess what? The land below was gray, covered in ash. Wow, didnt see that coming. At least with Saramago's, while you know another tragedy is coming, you dont know what it is.

But other stylistic issues that people have with the book, I actually enjoy. A frequent complaint seems to be the punctuation. Again like Saramago, McCarthy takes liberties with the normal usage. According to one review I read, he "butchers conventional rules". Nuts to that. Is it my inner teenager that thinks breaking rules is half the fun? It's not that McCarthy (or Saramago) does it unintentionally, dropping commas or quotation marks simply because they dont know the difference. Some people have accused McCarthy of being willy-nilly with his use of apostrophes in contractions. "I'm" has an apostrophe, "cant" doesnt. But it wasnt haphazard at all. Only the negative words have lost their apostrophe. To me, it's a much more effective illustration of the bleakness than simply repeating "gray" and "ash" over and over. Dropping the apostrophe in just the negative words seems to solidify them somehow, reminding us how devastating the world has become.

19 comments:

Dewey said...

You're not the last, because I just finished it yesterday and will probably blog about it tomorrow. The stylistic stuff drove me NUTS. It's hard to concentrate on a story when you're so distracted trying to figure out the pattern of why some contractions have apostrophes and why some don't. I came to the same conclusion you did, but I would rather have been left to become immersed in the story.

I don't really care about Oprah. I think she gets some non-readers reading, and that's cool. I don't watch her show, so I haven't seen any of her book club stuff, and I'm pretty oblivious to what she picks. In general, though I'm supportive of successful women, and so Oprah is ok with me.

Imani said...

Hmm, taking a look at her past selections I haven't read a single one (yet). I do intend to get to the Steinbeck and Morrison one day and the McCarthy sooner rather than later.

As I said in the comments of my post I actively despise her utilitarian approach to literature -- fiction acting as self-help. (I don't use "despise" lightly :p.) But I like the financial boost for the authors.

Sam Houston said...

I see that I've read at least six of Oprah's picks, including the last two, in fact. I was ahead of Oprah in every case but one, I think.

Between The Road and Blindness, I'd have to choose Blindness as being the better book. Maybe it was all the hype involved with McCarthy's book but it just didn't deliver the way I had been led to believe it would. Blindness, on the other hand, was a book that caught me by surprise and delivered more than I expected.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I was actually surprised to find I have read 5 of the Oprah book club books: Fall on your knees, The corrections, A fine balance, and both the Wally Lamb ones. This is just chance, however, as I pay no attention to the Oprah thing.

I AM however really looking forward to starting on Blindness in the next few weeks.

Matt said...

The Road is the only Oprah book I've read but I do have others on my TBR list, all of which were added (or read) before becoming Oprah selections.

John, you and I, along with Sam, have discussed Blindness and I liked it less than both of you. In addition, I liked The Road much more than Blindness though I never related the two like you. I'm beginning to think that I am one of the few that wasn't that impressed with Blindness. Though they have similarities, I prefer McCarthy's unique style to Saramago's.

I am reading another McCarthy book right now, Blood Meridian, and so far I think it is a better book than The Road. I'm no Oprah, but you might want to check it out, I think it is a better example of McCarthy's talent.

John Mutford said...

Dewey, Looking forward to your review tomorrow. I still have to do my final one on this book, so maybe I'll be the last one afterall.

Imani, I haven't read that Steinbeck book either, but I have liked other books of his so I'll give that a shot too.

Sam, Any plans to read the sequel to Blindness?

Barbara, I couldn't remember if I had read A Fine Balance or not. Then I read the synopsis and I really don't think I have. I'll have to remedy that.

Matt, I saw that you were doing that one. As I said, for now I'm sitting on the fence with The Road. At this point though, I'd definitely be interested in others he has written.

John Mutford said...

I just patched up the link. Instead of going to the Oprah page and having to search for the past book selections, you can go directly to them. Sorry 'bout that!

Sam Houston said...

I don't have any plans to read the sequel to Blindess, John, because I'm not a great fan of his style: those never ending sentences and paragraphs that go on for page after page, the lack of punctuation, etc. I think the style worked well in Blindness because it made me feel that I was struggling to make sense of that world almost as hard as the blind inmates were struggling.

I'm not sure that I want to put that much effort into every one of his books, though.

John Mutford said...

Sam, I don't have any immediate plans to read it either. While I loved Blindness, I'm a little wary of sequels. If they're really bad they ruin can even ruin the original. Plus, I like a huge time to pass before revisiting any author.

stefanie said...

I've read a few Oprah books but not because they were Oprah books. At least that's my story and I'm sticking with it :)

Gentle Reader said...

I'm surprised to see that I've read 17 of the Oprah selections. Most long before she picked them, but whatever. I have a thing about stickers on books, and movie editions, but obviously I don't avoid books because Oprah chose them. If she inspires anyone to read, fine with me!

Imani said...

Worse than movie stickers are movie covers! Blech. I was heart broken when I realised that the movie sticker on Annie Proulx short stories collection was printed on. :/

John Mutford said...

Stefanie, Sure, sure. I'm thinking of printing a t-shirt that reads, "I read it pre-Oprah!"- There seems to be a market ;)

Gentle Reader, 17?! That's a record I think- maybe even more than Oprah herself.

Imani, This one I agree with. How many people really want to read a book after seeing the movie? Sometimes I'm okay doing the reverse, but even then I'm wary.

Dewey said...

Stephanie can relax, because I counted 31 Oprah books I've read. But I mean, Anna Karenina? I read that before anyone ever heard of Oprah! A lot of her picks are things I was assigned as a lit major, you know?

John Mutford said...

For more Oprah debate, Matt and Marydell have also joined in.

Matt's Vitriol

Marydell's Question of Oprah

kookiejar said...

I've read 24 of Oprah's picks, (some because she picked them, others before she picked them) and I've found that I've enjoyed most of them. I have no Oprah aversion, I guess.

I'll be reading 'Middlesex' soon, not just because she picked it, but because it is a Pulitzer Prize winner and I tend to like those. In keeping with that, I loved 'The Road'. I didn't notice that only the negative contractions didn't have apostrophies. Good catch!

I was so engrossed by the story, I didn't give one fig for the punctuation, and frankly, I'm puzzled by people who can so easily be taken out of a story by missing quotations marks, or whatever.

I'm going to have to read 'Blindness' now.

Imani said...

John, I wouldn't be surprised if tons of people went out to buy a book if they liked the movie. Much bigger market spilling over. Certainly it was Ang Lee's movie that got me to pick up the Proulx, so guilty as charged. :p And the film adaptation of one Patrick McCabe's, though bad, it was clear that all the interesting bits were from the source material.

On a tangent I'm surprised that Oprah chose Middlesex since it's already so popular. But then I don't really follow her so it might not be out-of-the-norm.

John Mutford said...

Kookiejar, I'm not taken out of a story by punctuation either. Well, at first I am but I quickly adjust.

Imani, You're right. I guess there probably are plenty of people who want to read a book after seeing the movie. Personally, I resent having the director's version of the setting and the actor's images in my head when I read it. While I certainly love a good movie, I prefer the imagination that a good book requires.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your blog! I completely missed the whole punctuation thing because I listened to this on audiobook.