Though short in length, Outer Dark is a deep and lengthy exposition on the antiquated and rural American experience. McCarthy skillfully frays and interweaves a set of storylines occurring around the turn of the 20th century, though since it takes place in an isolated and unnamed countryside, it may as well be placed in the 19th century.
The story is based around the familial dissolution between Culla Holme and his sister Rinthy. Living together in rural isolation and upon the birth of her child, her brother promptly discards her child in the wilderness and sets out on an aimless sojourn for sustenance and perhaps a new set of boots; while awakened with the loss of her family, Rinthy resolves to set out and reclaim her child. Interspersed between each character’s quest is the inclusion of a band of marauding malevolence influencing the travels of each.
Progressing through the Cormac McCarthy oeuvre, I’ve come to notice certain undeniable recurrences: aimless and intentionally underdeveloped characters, no quotation marks, sparse yet colorful dialogue, dusty and nearly-deserted roads serving as the vehicle of the story, and a healthy dose of depravity. None remains lacking here.
I contend that McCarthy is just as much a writer of horror as he is of high literature in the Faulknerian tradition asserted by so many others. Outer Dark is not just a story about incest or poverty, but rather like Blood Meridian or No Country for Old Men, it’s about the pervasive lack of morality or injustice and the whimsical brutality so inherent to humankind. It’s about cannibalism, both metaphorical and literal; it’s about the people who are “takers”, those who are able to possess or consume others; and in McCarthy’s world, the consequences are never assumed for anyone’s actions.
Outer Dark is much starker than McCarthy’s The Road, as it establishes a post-apocalyptic environment without the fireworks or even hint of a catastrophic event. Quite simply, it isn’t needed. In that respect, it’s much more powerful and disturbing; its conclusion is the antithesis to that in The Road.
From what little I understand about his works, Rubem Fonseca is a big deal in the literary world, especially representative of the best South American writers around today. It shows, after reading his new collection of short stories, The Taker and Other Stories. My initial impression is that his writing style is a close amalgam of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Cormac McCarthy, though with a uniqueness that combines among his characters a flippant whimsy with an emptiness of deviousness, desperateness, opportunism and cruelty.
Make no mistake, Fonseca creates his stories around unique individuals and their circumstances, wealthy and impoverished; however, what distinguishes his stories and characters is that he is really writing about his native Brasil, about the desperate circumstances faced by its citizens, the corruption, their reaction to modernization, their daily sacrifices.
As if one really needed to be told, Brasil is passion. Life there is both carefree and cruel. Fonseca heaps a mixture of both in this collection of stories. He interweaves a world full of overworked and psychotic businessmen, the feasting upon rural roadkill, the camaraderie between mugger and victim, the nature of family among poor armed robbers, of murder amid good intentions, and the intense burn yet fleeting demise of love, often with fatal consequences.
Others have characterized Fonseca’s stories as unsettling, with which I agree completely. Add to that the words deeply, disturbing, engrossing, stifling, existential, and human. His stories force one to think not only about Brasilian life and culture, but the state of humanity as well. They may be short stories, but they’re so full of pathos.
In addition to watching the recent movie No Country for Old Men and reading The Road, I thought I’d explore Cormac McCarthy more deeply by reading his novel Blood Meridian. I’d heard about it from friends and intrigued for a good story, I dove in. Thrown in is more appropriate, like an infant into the deep end of the pool, from atop the high dive while held by a seven-foot-tall, four-hundred pound freakshow delicately bouncing upon the board to get as much leverage as insanely possible. The atomic splat of sentience that resulted after reading the work brought a self-awareness that I now have truly entered McCarthy’s world in as much as his writing syntax will allow.
Which is an exquisite thing. Blood Meridian is an astounding work that spans styles and genres, from the most erudite works of literature, to historical fiction, to sheer horror. It takes a story, an era ( the old West) that has been fantasized and romanticized to the point of nausea, and recreates it for what it most likely approximated in my opinion…unbridled lawlessness, havoc and murder.
Blood Meridian is a work depicting immense violence, detailing the events surrounding the escapades of a young character called ‘the kid’, as he makes his way westward from Tennessee around the year 1848. He wanders purposelessly until faced with the prospect of adventure in joining a band of scalp hunters destined for the American Southwest. Initially starting with a more specific objective, the band’s purpose slowly embraces the means rather than the end, under the direction of their leaders Captain Glanton and Holden, more commonly known as ‘the judge'; the band consequently sweeps across the southwest deserts and mountains in a sandstorm of terror, through Texas, Mexico, California and all places in between.
Though without glorifying war, McCarthy’s style of writing leaves no detail of atrocity untold. The extent to which he elaborates on brutality and chaos reifies his more or less consistent theme of society’s lack of morality, or at least the laughable facade of law and order. Which leads a reader to believe that this work is just as much a philosophical offering as it is one of fiction. That there are those among us who can manipulate situations and people to the extent as one particular character does in this story is the most frightening aspect. His insistence that existence of something requires someone else’s consent is a highly disturbing credo and is the underlying current to the justification of events as they progress.
In any case, that violence is eternal is but one aspect and message of Blood Meridian that’s thoroughly thought provoking and engrossing and bizarre and frightening. Read it, if you get the chance.
Came across an interesting exposition on why we humanoids love to game. It comes from the novel “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. My review for that work is forthcoming, but for the time being, the following passage may very well be the reason why we are so infatuated with Kratos and warcraftery and all the other derivations one can think of.
From Blood Meridian, page 249, Vintage International ed.:
The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.
In such games as have for their sake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest from of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is God.
Granted, this quote doesn’t apply to all genres of all games. But think about that the next time you play a first person shooter.