Books Lately

Just some very brief notes on books I’m reading or recently finished.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I often read several short story collections or anthologies at once. I take one or two stories from each and move on. I’m currently working through “Fugue State” by Brian Evenson, “Compositions For the Young and Old” by Paul Tremblay, “Blood Will Have Its Season” by Joseph S. Pulver Jr.. Also I’m near the end of two collections I’ve been savoring slowly for months, “Saffron and Brimstone” by Elizabeth Hand, and “The Imago Sequence” by Laird Barron, in fact I’ve finished other books by both writers since I began these.

Every one of the above books is absolutely top-notch and I feel like I’ve discovered more wonderful writers in the last year than in the previous decade.

I’m reading a biography of Donald Barthelme, a writer I haven’t read much since the 90s but who used to be one of my favorites. It’s called “Hidden Man” and it’s actually quite engaging and interesting as biographies go (I often find them hit and miss).

The biggest reading event of this year for me has been the “Border Trilogy” of Cormac McCarthy, which is comprised by his novels “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Crossing” and “Cities of the Plain.” I think I had put off approaching this trilogy for two reasons. First, the film adaptation starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz gave me the impression the whole thing would be lighthearted and romantic, and second, the structure of the trilogy (which is to say only a disjointed connection between the three books, with no characters in common between the first and second, and only one character from each of the two books appearing in the third) put me off a little. These books are nowhere near as mushy and feminine as the previews for the “Pretty Horses” movie made it seem, in fact the movie itself is nowhere near that romantic. Female characters don’t

The significant connection between the three novels is that despite the variation in character and the time gaps between books, all occur in the border area between the USA and Mexico, and all three involve crossings between the two lands as significant plot elements. The books are as stark and as harsh as the rest of McCarthy’s work, and a recurring theme is the attempt of a character to rescue a doomed or wounded friend, woman, child or animal. The landscape and the horses are as significant as any of the characters or plot events, and the narrative style varies from simple prose to poetry, from straightforward linear clarity to an almost ranting, biblical convolution.

There is never a question with McCarthy that he is writing about things that matter deeply to him, and that conviction and passion come through on the page. I consider him the most powerful and significant living writer, at least in the English language. If anybody out there hasn’t yet been convinced to read him by the various awards, the worshipful reviews, or even Oprah or the several film versions of his books, consider this yet another voice telling you, “If you read anything at all, you must read Cormac McCarthy.”

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