Reading Report: July 2008

After seeing the movie No Country for Old Men, I was intrigued enough by the characters to read the book, which was conveniently sitting on my shelf — my oldest brother has been swooning over Cormac McCarthy lately and gave me that book and another one (Blood Meridian). Hopefully I’ll get to that one next month.

No Country for Old Men is a page turner, to be sure, though it takes different twists and turns that you’d get in a mass market thriller. It’s also a good one for book groups and classrooms, filled with tense, symbolic scenes and exchanges that send readers searching for meaning. Anton Chigurh is the most interesting because he’s the most mysterious. The other characters are essentially fathomable, even when they aren’t predictable. For the most part they are motivated by money, although they seem to be drawn by invisible wires, behaving out of conditioning rather than reason or even passion. Chigurh doesn’t seem interested in the money for its own sake, and even his cat and mouse game with Llewelyn doesn’t seem to give him the pleasure of sport. He seems to move not just with the confidence that he will win the game, but with the burden of knowledge that nobody will learn anything, including himself. He’s given to ponder the nature of fate — whether it is chance, or primal rules that people follow — but it’s like the mental games played by bored people on long car trips, than a real quest for knowledge. I think there’s plenty to talk about with Cigurh, but I’m not sure anybody can conclude anything.

The prose is lean, with stylistic peculiarities that give McCarthy’s prose a distinct poetic rhythm. It’s hard to imagine it read any way than flatly, with a slight Texas drawl. It’s the kind of prose that takes over the reader’s own mental narrative. We took a little road trip just as I hit the final chapters, and I started to think in sentences like “they left the stripmall and got back into the saturnion and got back on the highway.” You need a palette cleanser after a book like that.

Mine was a bargain bin selection, Stephen King’s Blaze, what he calls a “trunk novel.” I know what he means; I have a couple myself. I would recommend skipping the heavily-footnoted introduction, in which he apologizes for what you’re about to read and explains the Richard Bachman pseudonym, which everybody knows about anyway. The book itself isn’t all that bad, for a trunk novel, and for a sentimental crime novel. The hero is a big, brain-damaged ex-con trying to pull off a kidnapping by himself, talking to the ghost of his ex-partner to sort out some of the details. Flashbacks to Blaze growing up build empathy for the big lunk, and are mostly better than the caper.

At month’s end I’m not very far along in too many books to mention: Blood Meridian, and Marjane Satrapi’s Tapestries, and a Jerry Spinelli book, and the new David Sedaris book (which I’ll probably save for an upcoming plane ride, now). I’ve also acquired some new books and am expecting one in the mail. My plight continues.

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