A dreary and menacing, slow-boiling narrative culminates in an act of utter horror which highlights the futility of the protagonists’ struggles. . . and ostensibly of existence in general. One of the more depressing novels I’ve ever read, on display in Cormac McCarthy’s second book is his now-usual mastery of tone and his awe-inspiring dialogue, so natural that it amazes you to realize that McCarthy wasn’t an eyewitness of the times.
Here is a supremely confident writer, already supremely confident very early in his career. He uses words and grammar in combinations that are not intuitive and may not even be technically correct, but at no point do you misunderstand his meaning; in that way he is a superlative wordsmith, twisting and coaxing words and phrases to elicit a precise significance that is rarely lost on the reader.
He does get too fancy for me at times, edging into pretentiousness. His penchant for using obscure word piled upon obscure word comes off as flaunting and can be distracting throughout the novel. You can pretty much open the book to any random page and find an example or two, but I’ll include one that particularly stuck out toward the end:
What discordant vespers do the tinker’s goods chime through the long twilight and over the brindled forest road, him stooped and hounded through the windy recrements of day like those old exiles who divorced of corporeality and enjoined ingress of heaven or hell wander forever the middle warrens spoorless increate and anathema. Hounded by grief, by guilt, or like this cheerless vendor clamored at heel through wood and fen by his own querulous and inconsolable wares in perennial tin malediction. 229
Now this is a particualrly egregious example, but c’mon, what does that even mean?! “Discordant vespers”? “Brindled”? “Recrements”? “Middle warrens spoorless increate and anathema”? “Perennial tin malediction”? Spellcheck doesn’t even know some of these words! Unfortunately, McCarthy just appears to be trying way too hard in passages like these. Thankfully he would learn restraint in later works.
He’s still my favorite living author though!