Tuesday, July 8, 2008
No, But I Did See the Movie
You know, for a writer with aspirations of one day publishing one of the forty million crap novels I have languishing on my hard drive, I sure don't read a lot of contemporary literary fiction. That's because I think most of it is pretty lame-o.
Recently, my feelings were confirmed by one of my fave crap magazines of all time, Entertainment Weekly. Of their recent listing of the 100 Best New Literary Classics of Last 25 Years, I've read, oh, maybe a tenth of one percent.
But I've seen every single one of their 100 Best Movies.
That's because in almost every case these days, it seems, the movie ends up being better than the book. You couldn't prod me to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for all the Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby in the world, but I thought the movies were nothing less than breathtakingly epic. Same goes for No Country For Old Men (we'll get to McCarthy's books in a second). About the only exception to this rule that I can think of is The Golden Compass, which sucks major ass. The only entertaining thing about it is:
A. Scoping out what, exactly, Nicole Kidman has had done to her face (Ah, hah! There, see, she raised a brow!)
B. Trying to decide if Daniel Craig is, indeed, über hawt or only meh-I'd-do-him-in-a-pinch-I-guess hawt.
Sorry, where was I?
Oh. So, I couldn't disagree more vehemently with Entertainment's choice of the number one best books in the last 25 years than if you'd suddenly pitched Moi into a room full of Marxists who were all wearing Crocs and gypsy skirts.
Why? Because Entertainment magazine's pick for best book is, steady now, Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
Yup. That's a big 10-4 WTF!?!?
Let me cut to the chase: In my opinion, Cormac McCarthy is no writer. Yes, I said it. He may be a thinker, and, as such, reveals an unusual willingness to take Big Mac-sized bites out of grand themes like good versus evil, man versus nature, fate versus free will. But he executes those themes with all the elegance of a third grader wielding a Sharpie to illustrate what mommy made him for breakfast that morning. McCarthy doesn't write so much as he lists. And he does so with such joyless, humorless determination, one has to wonder if his preoccupations are more sadistic than they are redemptive.
And my Gah do the critics just dribble themselves silly extolling the virtues of McCarthy's "economic" style. Puhleeze. There's economic and then there's downright stunted. Take Hemingway, for instance. That man put the curt in economic for sure. But he was also elegant and eagle-eyed, every word serving both form and function. Witness his cut-to-the-chase description of Francis Macomber's wife in one of the finest short stories ever written. After a couple short paragraphs of spot on observations about her hard-heartedness, he sums her up by calling her, "simply enameled in that American female cruelty."
That's so excruciatingly well done, it makes me never want to pluck at another keyboard for the rest of my life and just go sell candy at the mall.
McCarthy, however, gives me hope.
Check this out:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.
That, Party People, is The Road's freakin' opening sentence. A sentence so clunky and tongue twisting, it just makes me want to throw the whole thing into the compost pile where all those clunky little words will thankfully decompose and bring their beauty not to the world of words, but to my basil plants instead.
Wait, though; it gets better. Check out what passes for dialogue in Cloud Cuckoo McCarthy Land:
Can I ask you something? he said. Yes. Of course. Are we going to die? Sometime. Not now. And we're still going south. Yes. So we'll be warm. Yes. Okay. Okay what? Nothing. Just okay. Go to sleep. Okay. I'm going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay? Yes. That's okay. And then later in the darkness: Can I ask you something? Yes. Of course you can. What would you do if I died? If you died I would want to die too. So you could be with me? Yes. So I could be with you. Okay.
Whoa. Not only is McCarthy smoking some pretty good weed, his editor is for sure whacked on crack. 'Cause that shit don't float unless you're high on drugs and sporting an extremely itchy case of The Emperor's New Clothes.
So what do I think is the greatest book written in the past twenty-five years? To me, it's a three way tie between Lonesome Dove, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Bonfire of the Vanities. Where did they fall on Entertainment magazine's list? #24, #73, and #57, respectively. All behind Waiting to Exhale, which is a nifty lil' piece of Emancipated Chick Lit If You Happen To Like That Kind of Thing, but come on, and Jonathan Franz's The Corrections, a novel so stultifyingly insignificant that you need a microscope to plumb all one-quarter-of-an-inch of its depths.
Another surprise? Not a single book by James Lee Burke, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers putting words on paper today.
I swear, someone just needs to put me in charge of everything. Until then, I'm putting the book down and heading off to the movies.