All the Pretty Horses


Last updated 6/20/2023 at 10:05am

Cormac McCarthy died last week. At 89. Peacefully, in his home in Santa Fe. He has been flogged and revered by critics over his long career. Many find his works to be disturbing, brutal. Indeed they are often blood-soaked and violent tellings of hard lives lived by hard men. “No Country for Old Men” is of prime example.

That novel, one of 12 he authored, was somewhat poorly received, although the film version was wildly successful earning four Academy Awards including Best Picture. He is probably best known for his post-apocalyptic novel “The Road.” Published in 2006, “The Road” is a bleak and haunting fable about a father and young son journeying through a ravaged landscape eradicated of civilization and most life on Earth.

“The Road” garnered a Pulitzer. McCarthy’s first widespread success was “All the Pretty Horses” (1992), for which he was awarded both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

I’m pretty sure he would eschew the idea that he had a genre. The publishing world likes putting authors into neat, tidy boxes. It’s easier to sell books that way. Southern gothic. Western. Post-apocalyptic. That’s where they’ve put him. But looking at his entire body of work, you really can’t pigeon-hole him.

It seems safe to say who influenced him the most. He told Oprah Winfrey in one of his rare interviews that William Faulkner and Herman Melville were the two strongest influences in his writing. He specifically cites “Moby Dick” as having a profound impact on him as a young reader. I’m guessing James Joyce, Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor could also be found in his bookshelf.

I never got the Faulkner connection. Faulkner often wrote in complex, extended sentences. McCarthy wrote in a terse, simple style, sparse with words. Except when he didn’t. The opening sentence to “All the Pretty Horses” is 89 words long. The opening to “Blood Meridian”: three words.

A quick check at Deschutes County Library tells me that word of McCarthy’s death has caused a mild stampede for his works. The system has 15 of his books in printed form, 12 as e-books and seven downloadable audiobooks plus five actual audiobooks. Of the printed ones, get in line. Especially for his two most recent from last year: “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris,” his first works of fiction in 16 years.

As an old advertising guy where no superfluous words were ever allowed given the cost of a 30-second commercial or a full-page ad in Time or Life, McCarthy was a copywriter’s maven. He certainly inspired me from the time I read “All the Pretty Horses” until I saw “No Country for Old Men” on the silver screen — not once but three times.

Were he reading this he’d have given up in utter despair by now. “Have you learned nothing, Bartlett? Already you have used quotation marks and parentheses. And that damned colon. At least you have not used a semicolon.”

In a discussion of punctuation, McCarthy stressed that his minimalist approach works in the interest of maximum clarity. He referenced Joyce. “James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

I won’t miss McCarthy. Books are forever. I can bring him back to life just by turning the pages. Nor will he be forgotten. Any more than a dozen other American literary icons. I’m pleased to learn that there is still debate at what grade high school lit teachers are taking up McCarthy. That he is still in the syllabus is good enough for me.

That he chose to finish his life in Santa Fe is another kinship. It ranks on the top five of my favorite cities. When I next return I will scurry over to the Santa Fe Institute where McCarthy was a trustee and Life Fellow.

Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet I reckon that a good number of Sisters Country folk will be dusting off copies of McCarthy’s books as they honor his passing.

• He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.

• I knew that what I was seeking to discover was a thing I’d always known. That all courage was a form of constancy. That it was always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily.

• Cormac McCarthy – “All The Pretty Horses”


Reader Comments(0)


Our Family of Publications Includes:

Https:// Data/dfault/images/masthead 260x100
Sisters Oregon Guide
Spirit Of Central Oregon
Spirit Youtube
Nugget Youtube

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2024