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Writing graven in stone
on 10 May 2009
It is impossible to read a single paragraph of Cormac McCarthy's without being struck by the extraordinary power of his authorial voice. He writes with the rhythms of the King James Bible and with same alternate plainness and power. There is a weight to his words that is seldom seen, a heft behind each sentence. It as if his prose were carved in stone.
Into these sentences and paragraphs, onto these words, these stones, McCarthy scatters a cast of men (and fewer women) good and bad. Prophets, kindly, diligent doctors, wise women, sneering, jeering ruffians, petty officials, simple lunatics - all are to be found in these pages. Many of these figures come laden with tales, prophetic or otherwise, of broken churches and broken men, of lost wanderers, of lost heroes.
And McCarthy has heroes of his own, of course, both human and otherwise. The latter heroes are the landscapes of Mexico and the southernmost United States - harshly beautiful, uncompromising, demanding - and the animals that dot them: the she-wolf Billy Parham stalks at the opening of the tale, the horse he rides, the horses belonging to their father that Billy and younger brother Boyd seek to recover from across the border.
Lastly there come Boyd and Billy himself. The former young, impatient, is perhaps the more obviously heroic, a figure who becomes easily worked into song a into legend. The latter, loyal to a fault and beyond, dogged, determined to prove something - if not to the world then to himself - is the river that winds through the novel's stone-graven landscape, sometimes meandering, sometimes threatening to peter out but somehow always passing forward to his unknown, uncomprehended destinations.