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- neal call - English Major's critique of McCarthyWriting Quality: 9/10.
I debated whether to score this higher or lower. Without a doubt, I think McCarthy is one of the best writers I've read. The first of his novels I read was All the Pretty Horses, and I could pick phrases out of it that are as beautiful as anything I've encountered. This novel is different. It's a tribute to McCarthy that he doesn't always write the same way, that he can change his style to suit a story. And this story is simple, and bleak, and heartbreaking. An inordinately gilded phrase or description could break the magic of the reality McCarthy creates. So, while I mostly don't read in this novel the sort of "beautiful phrasing" that I usually look for, and that McCarthy can do whenever he wants, the style is perfect for its purpose, which in its own way might be the best measure of writing ability.
Depth of Concept: 10/10.
What is the concept here? It's certainly more than just a haphazard exploration of a post-apocalyptic future. It's love. It's fear. It's desperation, and sacrifice, and even ugliness. At what point does love become ugliness? When does it become selfishness? These kinds of questions are not raised verbatim in the novel; rather, the novel presents situations and thoughts that naturally lead the reader to these sorts of questions. I considered scoring this lower, maybe a 9, but then as I was thinking about it, I considered that I am not aware of anyone who has ever told a story like this one before, with these kinds of ramifications, with this masterfulness. I'm sure that there is room to argue that (maybe some of the plays by Samuel Beckett, whether Endgame or Waiting for Godot, would be interesting to compare), but that's what came to my mind. At least for that reason, I think that there is rich ground to interpret the story in any number of directions, almost as though this is virgin territory. I almost wish I was in school five years from now, so that I could read academic papers about this book, and about McCarthy's body of work, with the same sort of intensity that I did with other, older novels.
Rounded Characters: 8/10.
I wondered if I should score this higher (or maybe even lower?). In a novel like this, so much is left unsaid, under the surface, that it can be an interesting intellectual process, to ask yourself how much is supplied by the author, and how much is supplied by yourself. And if you're into reader-response theory, one might argue that it doesn't matter. But I ended up scoring the characters slightly lower simply because I think this story may be a little less about the actual characters in the novel, and more about what the novel forces us to think about ourselves. The characters in the novel are pretty much limited to the Man and the Boy, and I care about the Boy because I care about my own family, my own daughter. I care for the Man because I see myself in him. In that sense, McCarthy leaves the characters open enough that it's possible to do that sort of vicarious reading.
Well-Developed World: 9/10.
It's a sparsely written book, and because of the vagueness regarding whatever cataclysm has occurred, along with a vagueness about actual locations, some might want to see this scored lower. But I think the descriptions work perfectly for what McCarthy is trying to do, and the atmosphere of the book lingers even after you've read just one page. For that reason, I think it's an incredibly well-developed world, even if in a different way than many other novels.
Page Turner: 9/10.
I might have scored this higher, but the fact for me was that there were some points where I just didn't want to read anymore. I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed, and I needed a sort of spiritual and emotional break to process what I had been reading. Sometimes reading it is like watching a car wreck, where you just can't stop turning the pages, but it's not exactly a pleasurable experience. But it's always a meaningful one, and the pages fly by even when you're hurting for the characters.
Kept Me Thinking: 10/10.
Absolutely. Not in the sort of cosmic, "there's so much out there" sort of way that I found in Moby Dick or Midnight's Children, but in a more intimate, personal, and painful way. This is not an easy book to read, partly because of what the characters experience, but especially because of what it makes you experience. Early on, we get this from the Man: "He watched the boy sleeping. Can you do it? When the time comes? Can you?" What is it? I can guess a few terrible things. And there's no easy answer.
Overall Recommendation: 10/10.
Repeated: this is not an easy book to read. Think of bad things that happen to people. Really bad things. This is a book where you read about them. But at the same time, there is hope and there is tenderness that counters that oppressiveness. Only you can be the judge of what you can take emotionally. But this is a beautiful, tragic book, and it may make you a better person, more ready, more capable of loving those close to you. I might also suggest that it might be even harder to read, and perhaps even more meaningful/heartbreaking, if you have children of your own. McCarthy has stated that he wrote it with his young son as an inspiration.
See my profile web page for an expanded review and other thoughts