Posts Tagged ‘Cormac McCarthy’

Hope amid hopelessness: Two post-apocalyptic visions of America

July 1, 2012

The other day, I reviewed two novels about a post-apocalyptic America. I had some thoughts about what these books had to say about the United States that didn’t fit into a general review, and I wanted to explore them here. Please beware that there be spoilers here; read no further unless you already know or want to know key information from these novels.

(Also, read no further unless you have the stomach for a rather long essay with ambitions of accessible literary criticism. You have been warned.)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse are radically different stories. Nuclear war has scorched America in McCarthy’s 2006 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner; gray skies blanket a dead, ash-covered landscape roamed by desperadoes and cannibals. As the nameless protagonist and his son walk south in hopes of escaping the relentless cold, every person they encounter seems to poses a mortal threat. McCarthy, an American writer, omits all quotation marks and some apostrophes and hyphens; there are no chapter breaks, and sentence fragments pepper his pages.

The Pesthouse, which Crace published in 2007, is more conventional in form. The British author writes fully formed sentences and divides his book into chapters. Whereas McCarthy pegs his harrowing tale to the viewpoint of the man and the boy, Crace’s narrator is sometimes omniscient and sometimes tied to his protagonists, Franklin Lopez and Margaret, as they journey separately and together across some future America. Read the rest of this entry »

Apocalypse tomorrow: Two books contemplate life in a land of death

June 14, 2012

There are few topics in life as interesting as death. Sure, endless reams of paper and reels of celluloid have been expended on money, love and adventure. But death may hold more fascination than any of those.

Consider the countless murder mysteries in print, on film and on television. Think about tales of espionage, adventure stories, science fiction TV series and movies: Almost inevitably, the lives of an agent, a crew, a nation, a galaxy hang in the balance. The prospect of mortality helps sharpen the poignancy of medical dramas. Death overshadows and underscores war, horror and historical narratives.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that there has been much speculation about the end of the world and everything after. Recently, I read two such books: The Pesthouse, a 2007 novel by British author Jim Crace, and The Road, which American writer Cormac McCarthy published in 2006.

Crace begins with a fascinating premise. Several generations ago, apparently, for reasons unspecified — perhaps the exhaustion of fossil fuels? — America lost its ability to generate electricity. The nation, and possibly the rest of the world, has fallen into a primitive state roughly equivalent to the 18th century. Metal is now an exotic substance. For all intents and purposes, medicine has vanished. Artifacts of our contemporary existence are viewed as indecipherable ruins. Read the rest of this entry »

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