Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Repost, and Cogitations

To begin, I must repost a grand story, originally posted by my esteemed colleague the Renaissance Biologist, which is just...well, beyond description. I am usually wary of these sorts of stories, because of their sentimentalistic overtones, but seriously? Dude. This is amazing.

On to me cogitations!

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning 2007 book The Road. The story of how I hooked up with it finally is kind of weird, and since I'm in a perverse and wordy mood, I'll recount it.

It started with a picture on RottenTomatoes.com's slideshow-style "hot story" display. The story was small--just new pictures from some movie called The Road--but what caught my attention was the "cover image" for the story. It was Viggo Mortensen in a dirty-looking hood and a huge beard. The Other, who was with me at the time, commented that "Aragorn look[ed] like an ent."

I was intrigued. I hadn't heard aught about this movie, but I have sort of a bit of respect for Mr. Mortensen (even though I hated his Aragorn), in part because of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. So I did some research, and the more I discovered the more I wanted to see the movie. I happened to mention it to a roommate, and he proceeded to buy the book. He loved it, and passed it to me...and here I am. I finished it a few hours ago.

The book is beautiful. It's a work of art. It's a postmodern novel--the ideas of "plot" and "character" are discarded for a mostly-hidden but extensive subcreation, philosophical discussions of morality, and word-painting. The last characteristic is probably what drew me the most...

Four of my favorite writers of all time are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, and they're near the top because they "get it". They realize that word choice is vital to creating mood, and consistent word choice at that. For example: read Tolkien's descriptions of Mordor. Painstakingly the death and devastation permeates the writing--there's nary a lapse. Another example: Chesterton's Father Brown story "The Honour of Israel Gow" and its heavy tone of grotesquery.

This is what McCarthy does. I hate to use the word "relentless" because so many people use it to describe The Road's subcreated universe. But he is relentless in his language, using and reusing words like ash, gray, slush, and black until they almost lose their meaning--until the reader begins to see the world, our world, precataclysmic, in grayscale, and to feel the cold wet seep of melting snow flooding footwear.

This is a simply-written book. McCarthy doesn't need to use aureate diction to communicate this world. The spareness of the style mimics the emptiness of the world he crafts--there's nothing left, so he doesn't need flowery language to describe it.

And thematically! I absolutely refuse to spoil it, but I will say that this is one of the most uplifting books I've read in a long time. It's not a fun book to read, but it is without doubt one of the best of the last 50 years, and should be on the reading list of any self-respecting intellectual. I give it 5/5.

Long live those dreams that may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil--those dreams that must give us pause!

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