January 6

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Cormac McCarthy on an icy day

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This morning one of the dogs took a long time to eat her food, and so I sat down by the front door and read a little Cormac McCarthy. I read sentences like

Above the heat and the improbable skyline of the city a brass moon has risen and the clouds run before it like watered ink.

Wonderful. It’s hard for me to read Suttree, however, knowing that the skyline McCarthy is describing is that of my current home, Knoville. It’s often hard for me to write intoxicated about Knoxville, can I confess? Not always–there are some moments I could share with you–but much of the time.

Today, the lane where I live was so icy I couldn’t walk the dogs down the hill. Even the husky, too young to know much about snow, went scrambling and sliding once. Sniffing in her usual way, she walked out across a frozen half-inch puddle, and when the ice cracked, she dashed away, startled, one foot wet.

I thought about how fiction is supposed to relate to consciousness. Should a novel be comprised of the sort of language used by conscious thought? Should it be another kind of talking, set down, obviously, with more care and order than talk, but still the words of a thinking voice? Or should it be intoxicated, allusive, vision-seeking? Should it be nothing like the voices we meet in the street?

He rowed up from under the shadows of the bluffs and past the sand and gravel company and then along by barren and dusty lots where rails ran on cinder beds and boxcars oxidized on blind sidings, past warehouses of galvanized and corrugated tin set in flats gouged from the brickcolored earth where rhomboid and volute shapes of limestone jutted all brindled with mud like great bones washed out.

Too much, perhaps–too overdone? Is McCarthy, here, escaping from the everyday mind, or merely substituting for that mind a rather mechanically applied Wagnerism? Is he trying too hard to escape Knoxville, Tennessee?


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