Cormac McCarthy is one of my top three favorite authors along with China Mieville and Jose Saramago. It’s tough to rank the three. I’ve certainly read the most of Mieville and Saramago’s Blindness well deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature he received, but McCarthy’s prose is so beautiful and compelling his books really draw me in. He has been called the “best American author since Mark Twain”.
McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road, and his novel All the Pretty Horses won the U.S. National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Both of these, along with No Country for Old Men, have been adapted into films. The film adaptation of No Country, directed by the Coen brothers, received four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
I was first exposed to McCarthy in my Sophomore year of College at the University of Oregon. I took a modern American literature course and among the extensive reading was his novel Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. At first I found his prose difficult. I had never been exposed to writing such as his. However, after about 25 pages I couldn’t put the book down. It is, admittedly, disturbing in its content and imagery. It follows the story of the Galton Gang, a historical band of scalp hunters who, during the years of 1849-1850, massacred Native Americans and others on the border between the US and Mexico. However, there is a certain compelling beauty in the prose that is in sharp contrast to the images it portrays.
After Blood Meridian I sought out McCarthy’s work. All the Pretty Horses, at heart a love story, is again filled with powerful imagery and stunning prose. I have described his writing as prose poetry when discussing his work with others, and I think that hits the mark. 2006’s The Road was, much like Blood Meridian, a bit disturbing being the tale of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic United States. However, the love shown between the father and son is amazing, and the ending powerful.
In an interesting side note McCarthy chose his publisher simply because Random House was the “only publisher he had heard of.” When he submitted it he was fortunate enough to have it passed on to Albert Erskine who had been William Faulkner’s editor until Faulkner’s death in 1962. McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper, came out in 1965 and Erskine edited all of his books for the next 20 years.