McCarthy's Writing Can Lack Clarity

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  • 19 Jan 2015 at 7:24 am #6231


    I think McCarthy’s writing style can lack clarity sometimes. The lack of punctuation works for him in many interesting ways, but I think it can make the ride bumpy at times.

    For example, on the first page of Blood Beridian:

    “Night of your birth. Thirty-tree…”

    When I first read that, I had no idea someone was speaking.

    Then there are times when a comma and conjunction could separate two independent clauses.

    For example, on page 5 of Blood Meridian:

    “The wind has a raw edge to it and leaves lope by the roadside and skelter on in the night fields.”

    When I first read that, I thought that the wind was leaving something called lope by the roadside.

    19 Jan 2015 at 4:12 pm #6246

    Rick Wallach

    Just a quick pass: it’s an old director’s trick to muffle dialog in a suspense film when something jolting is about to happen, for example, the way the volume of the dialog in Jaws gradually dropped by about 30% just before Bruce, the big shark, suddenly popped out of the water just under Roy Scheider’s nose during the chumming scene. The effect of lowering the volume is to make audiences pay harder and closer attention – to “lean in,” as it were, just as something is about to go BOOM! in your face, and enhance the effect. I suggest that McCarthy’s limited punctuation serves much the same effect – it forces you to look harder at the text to see who’s talking, to pay more attention.

    Also, McCarthy uses conjunctions in order to establish or to maintain rhythm in his prose, privileging poetic effects over mere punctuation per se. He can, however, and does use both together at times, to often spectacular rhythmic effect, as in the “Crossing the Del Norte” segment of Blood Meridian.

    Incidentally, McCarthy says that he picked up the limited use of punctuation style from McKinlay Kantor’s great Civil War novel Andersonville.

    He also believes that semicolons are as useless in narrative as Jim Harrison believes sage is in cooking.

    20 Jan 2015 at 6:27 am #6252


    Cool, Rick. I’ll have to check out Andersonville. I thought McCarthy got the no punctuation thing from Joyce.

    As for the rhythm of McCarthy’s prose, I’m absolutely in love with it. Once you get used it it flows like nothing else.

    I’ve heard him say the thing about the semi-colon in an interview. I also believe he said he didn’t like dashes. He uses a couple in No Country For Old Men in the 1st person passages of Sheriff Bell.

    16 Jul 2016 at 9:57 pm #8457


    Thanks Rick for the comments re “leaning in” – this I can the poetic nature of the prose.
    other things seem to be going on as well to make us “lean in”. Found this sentence in Lydia R Cooper’s essay “Mccarthy tennessee and the southern gothic”: “the aesthetic emphasis on the visual draws attention to the spiritual significance lying beyond the physical realm”. I think this is just another way for us to “lean in”. yes there is the sort of programatic way the physical world shows us states of mind of characters or moods in certain parts of stories. But I think it is even more basic or primal than that- his greatness comes from the acute way his eye observes things, the immensely real vivid way descriptions of both stationary and moving scenes come alive. We are absorbed, and in that absorption we start to see the “truth” of the story. which I suppose is the essence of great myth. I remember the first time I read CM- the opening passages of ATPH made me stop and sit up as though someone had hit me over the head. the flickering candle, the mirror…I went back and re-read and re read and in a moment I knew I was in for something great. My absorption was complete. Later I read a review of The Crossing where the reviewer said no-one could ever convince him that the episode where the boy catches the wolf did not really happen.CM’s eye is just right. He sees the physical world so acutely, in the way a surgeon must see the first signs of trouble in an operating field, or a pilot first sees the very earliest signs of bad weather or a shift in a dial. this vividness marks him as one of the greats, in the way Homer and his forbears described the battles and the gore, rightly, vividly, and the listeners around the campfire were “in”, and the goings on of the gods and the giant themes of anger and jealousy and violence and their consequences became “the truth”

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