Weird Little Marks–Again

This topic contains 6 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 3 months, 4 weeks ago.

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  • 09 Jul 2017 at 11:23 am #9679

    wesmorgan
    Participant

    John Grisham was recently interviewed by Stephen Usery of Chapter16.org about his most recent book, Camino Island. At the end of the interview the conversation turned to a list of “rules for writers” that the fictional character Bruce Cable expresses in the book. Grisham then offers his own opinions.

    Chapter 16: I share the opinion that you should set off dialogue with quotation marks. Do you think Cormac McCarthy should be the only person allowed to omit quotation marks for dialogue?

    Grisham: Yes, Cormac should be the only person allowed to do that. I think he started it. He has his own rules for grammar and writing. He’s Cormac. He can get by with that; the rest of us can’t.”

    I believe that Grisham is in error about Cormac starting the omission of quotation marks, but Cormac might well be the only living writer able to get by with it.

    The interview can be found at: http://chapter16.org/on-the-beach-on-the-road-on-top-of-the-bestseller-list/


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    • This topic was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by  wesmorgan.
    09 Jul 2017 at 2:07 pm #9681

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    If I am not mistaken McCarthy said somewhere that McKinlay Kantor started it and Cormac picked it up from him.


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    09 Jul 2017 at 2:15 pm #9682

    mannym
    Member

    He certainly didn’t invent it. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett come to mind. I do agree that Cormac is the only living author who can get away with it, until he isn’t. That is to say, it’s almost a rule now that McCarthy is the only one who should do it, but rules were meant to be broken. To do it without inviting comparison to McCarthy would be quite a trick, though.

    I think the most important thing to be gleaned from Cormac’s lack of quotation marks and other familiar punctuation is that it stems from the same place as all editing, an attempt at doing away with anything superfluous. But when Cormac edits, he questions even the rules themselves. I often get the sense when reading McCarthy that entire sentences may have once existed in certain places, the sort of sentences that most writers are somewhat “trained” to include, but that Cormac recognized them as non-essential and excised them. I had that feeling when I read his recent essay, “The Kekulé Problem”. The opening line feels more like the first line of a second paragraph of an essay rather than a first. Most writers would probably start out with some broad opening statement, but Cormac just goes right into it.


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    10 Jul 2017 at 1:45 am #9687

    Richard L.
    Member

    Yes. Oprah asked him about it and he brought up ANDERSONVILLE and Kantor’s Pulitzer Prize. Some of McCarthy’s style is attributable to James Jones’ FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, another Pulitzer winner as well–but Jones used quotation marks.


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    25 Jul 2017 at 11:42 am #9739

    mother_he
    Member

    Richard L.: Some of McCarthy’s style is attributable to James Jones’ FROM HERE TO ETERNITY[.]

    This is interesting to me… I’ve never read any James Jones but I know my grandfather enjoyed his books. What aspects of McCarthy’s style derive from Jones? Is there any record of McCarthy citing him as an influence or talking about his books?


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    25 Jul 2017 at 9:33 pm #9742

    franzpeter
    Member

    Have not been around these parts for a long time. Trust all are well.

    Why Grisham or anyone else would wish to suggest that McCarthy is the only author “allowed [allowed!!!??!] to omit quotation marks” (the only author? In the whole world? Christ!) is beyond me. But…

    William Gay did not use punctuation marks in ‘Provinces of Night’. Nor did Kent Haruf in ‘Plainsong’, or Roberto Bolano in ‘Chile by Night’. I just checked these quickly of the shelves, obviously there will be plenty of other examples.

    James Joyce did, in fact, use quotation marks but not the usual 66/99. Instead he employed what typographers like me call an ‘em dash’, anticipating each line of dialogue with it. Mr McCarthy may, or may not, think of the em dash as a ‘weird little mark’, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll drop him a line and ask him. (And Grisham).

    When quotation marks are not used it is usually the case that unless it is absolutely clear from the context the dialogue, as in an exchange between two characters, is always separated into its own discreet lines. Since the purpose of quotation marks is, in part, to lend clarity to a passage and since line separation achieves much the same thing it would be, in my view at least, legitimate to regard consistently applied line separation as punctuation of a kind.

    The most McCarthy like novel that is not by McCarthy: Andrew Huebner’s ‘American by Blood’ doesn’t use quotation marks or any kind of dash either. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Huebner mentioned on this board so I’m doing so now. ‘American by Blood’ appeared in 2000, which is when I first read it, and, slightly ahead of the game and before it became fashionable to do so, mentions McCarthy in it’s blurb: “In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy, an unforgettable novel which recreates the violence and vitality of the American West.” There is also an approving line by McMurtry.

    The action takes place in 1876 immediately after Little Bighorn and features characters that most of you will know from the history. I loved it and re-read it not long ago. Of course deifiers of McCarthy will probably find reasons to hate it. Whatever, very strongly recommended.

    peterfranz


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    26 Jul 2017 at 7:24 pm #9745

    Richard L.
    Member

    Thanks for that, peterfranz.

    Re: “What aspects of McCarthy’s style derive from Jones? Is there any record of McCarthy citing him as an influence or talking about his books?”

    No, and I herewith retract that statement. I argued for it somewhere long ago, citing aspects of McCarthy’s motifs, not his writing style–a different thing altogether, and my arguments were iffy if not erroneous all the way around. Thus it seems, looking back and reconsidering now.

    The obvious stylistic patterns in McCarthy were Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, and Beckett, but McCarthy has pretty much set his own patterns and vocabularies making him easy to spot and easy to parody. They’ve stopped comparing his style with Faulkner’s, but they are far from ceasing to compare new authors to him.


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