23 January 2008

Bloodbook on the half shell

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

John Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath.

To me, these books are telling but one story.

It is said that humans will actually consume each other to survive, but in The Grapes of Wrath this only takes place metaphorically, whereas...

In The Road, McCarthy has whittled existence back to its most basic elements. Gone is the artifice of civilisation which counts for nothing in either case. For that, The Road is a more universal story.

In the journey down The Road, the lead character is distilled before our eyes until he is stripped of all personality. Only hope remains, so we can find ourselves easily upon the page. The darkness and our defeat. The light and our victory.

It is no coincidence that there she is on the final page of each book too. She who just is. Woman, mother, our gracious, compassionate earth. Survival.

I did love The Grapes of Wrath when I first read it - I had already met Woody Guthrie and knew his wonderful Dust Bowl Ballads. Woody is the definition of old-school cool, but he is a forgotten hero now. For shame. Bob Dylan saw fit to sit at his feet and Billy Bragg & Wilco did good work with his unrecorded lyrics a few years ago.

Anyway, I read all of Steinbeck after that, but I felt sad for him in the end; I feel like he ceased his yearning on the cusp of something great.

I just finished No Country For Old Men also by Cormac McCarthy. It only takes a day to read. That was also very good. There is a cold, cold killer walking the pages of the tale, I’m sure the movie makes much of him - I haven’t seen it yet - but it's not exactly clear what he represents. I guess he is simply death. Must be. No-one living knows his face. Very clever.

What I really liked was that title: No Country For Old Men. The book is coloured by a Texan vernacular and I'm going to put on that 10 gallon hat and tell you that it’s not that around these parts is not a good place for geriatric folk, it’s just that old men find they lack any sense of belonging. Now maybe that’s just a general fact of living and dying. There ain't no place on earth you can stay forever. Except maybe the dharma has declined and America has fallen heavy on her knees. The good guy even asks a lawyer for the definition of ‘mammon.’ Says its important to know about it.

When an author is going deep, deep, deep, I wonder if they set out with a message and then weave it so clever into the story or if it’s just a story that weaves a message for them. Now that’s a proper question for never knowing the answer sure. Perhaps it is just the telling that is the message. That’s what makes a book good, it don’t have to walk up and slap you ‘round the head with a moral club; no, it gets in gentle under the collar and starts to itch.

Well, I don’t really talk like that, not unless I want to. Mama always said I was clever though.

Picture is of Cormack McCarthy

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