24 October 2010

Fall is Falling: My Reviews of Cormac McCarthy and T.C. Boyle

 I read both of these books with the possibility of using them in class in mind.  I am reviewing them for a "Literature of the American West" course that I, hopefully, will be teaching in the Fall.  I am planning on teaching Boyle, but - although the book is very powerful- I've decided to go with a different McCarthy novel (probably The Road).

Okay, so here are the reviews:

 McCarthy:

McCarthy's novel is a whole lot like the movie.  I almost wish that I had read the book before the movie, because it was so well adapted that every chapter played like a scene in my head.  McCarthy is usually a quick read for me, but it felt a little plodding in the beginning because of the similarity, which made me less excited to move forward in the book.

For those that haven't seen the movie, No Country for Old Men begins when a Texas welder named Moss happens upon a drug deal gone wrong while he is hunting out in the desert.  He finds a number of dead and dying men, and a suitcase full of money, which he takes.  This begins a man hunt to recover the money, which includes both law enforcement and the dealers themselves, including a hit-man for hire, Chigurh, who is the primary force of evil in the book.

The book also focuses on the aging Sheriff Bell, as he contemplates his retirement and tries to figure how he fits into a world where the lines delineating right and wrong are growing ever more tenuous.  Bell is a cowboy turned lawman, whose vision of justice is rapidly becoming irrelevant.  Chigurh, however, has his own warped sense of justice based on many of the old ideals, like keeping one's word, and through his reliance on chance and his sense of right and wrong, reveals the hypocrisy in any view of morality and justice painted in black and white.

The end of this book is really fantastic as all the themes come together, into a sad, but somehow satisfying ending.  I'm excited to go back and re-watch the movie now to see if there is anything that was left out.

Boyle:

I think I have mentioned before on this blog that I think T.C. Boyle is perhaps one of the most talented living American writers, which is an awfully bold statement.  I wasn't disappointed with this novel, but I was surprised by it.  One of the things that impresses me about Boyle's work is the breadth.  I found this to be remarkably different than many of the short works that I've read, especially in terms of the tone.  Although some of the characters in the novel had a wry sense of humor that is familiar Boyle territory, overall this was a very dark work. 

The novel begins with a chance encounter between Delany Mossbacher, an environmentalist and nature writer, and Candido Rincon, an illegal Mexican immigrant.  As Candido is returning to his canyon campsite after a day of labor, Delaney accidentally hits him with his car.  These two men narrate much of the novel as they live their separate, but always intersecting, lives.  There is no mistaking that this is a political novel, but the politics are complicated, not polemic.  It is clear that the members of the exclusive, gated community that the Mossbachers (Delaney and his wife Kyra, who also narrates) feel invaded, not only by the waves of immigrants, but also by the coyotes that come over the fence and snatch the Mossbachers' two small dogs, serving as a complicated metaphor for the immigrants in the community.  However, the dynamic is complicated when the members of the community invite in the Mexican labor to build the very walls meant to keep them (and the coyotes) out.

Candido and his young wife, named America, are not entirely sympathetic characters either, although it is clear that they are at least partially victim to a situation that at is not of their making.  Candido's sense of pride is one of his tragic downfalls that puts him and America in many perilous situations.  And it is not only the white characters that inflict violence (of all kinds) on the couple, but instead the novel reveals the cruelty that is possible in all human relationships.  In the end - to simplify it terribly- it is clear that when we can't share and get along, everybody loses.

Then there is the environment itself, which provides much of the dramatic tension in the novel.  I will leave it at that, and say that the novel is certainly worth reading and thinking about.  However, it is sad and complicated, but very appropriate reading material for our time.

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