Generally it seems that the more reviews I’m writing, the less reading I’m doing. Lately I’ve focused on reading a lot, and left reviewing as a secondary consideration. Time to catch up a bit, and if not write reviews, then at least summarize recent reads. I’ll have to break this into three or four parts.
No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Even lesser work by Cormac McCarthy exhibits numerous moments of greatness. No Country for Old Men seems to be the story of Llewelyn Moss finding millions of dollars in cash at the scene of a drug deal gone bad in the desert, but it’s really the story of Ed Tom Bell, a sheriff approaching retirement and watching his county disintegrate into madness and violence. Anton Chigurgh, the psychopathic hitman memorably portrayed by Javier Bardem in the film version of the book, is reminiscent at times of the Judge in Blood Meridian, in seeming to represent a deeper, wider-ranging force than mere human malevolence.
The title hints at an almost reactionary conservative outlook on the part of Sheriff Bell, as the book ends with Bell’s observations that society has deteriorated in many irreparable ways, starting from the loss of manners and civility and culminating in a near-complete breakdown of respect for life and law. Most of McCarthy’s work feels less narrowly focused on a given time period and locale, more timeless and universal. In comparison, this book is tied-down in a way that is very specific and contemporary (though not quite present-day), and in that sense No Country for Old Men feels smaller, less consequential. Still it’s powerful work, well worth reading, especially for those who can’t get enough Cormac McCarthy
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
Halfway through this book, I mentioned to friends that contrary to what I’d been told, “Suttree is not lesser Cormac McCarthy.” Having finished the book, I’d call it a profound achievement, maybe only half a step beneath the level of Blood Meridian, though of an entirely different flavor. The biggest difference is that Suttree is funnier and often more absurd, full of self-defeat and futility, along with with the usual McCarthy obsession on death and the hostility of humankind to itself. I’ll come back to Suttree again and again, and highly recommend it
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
It’s long, and might be exhausting for some readers, but I loved this book’s intimate point of view and lush detail. The Goldfinch is much more interesting at length than in summary, but basically it’s the life of a teenage boy Theo after he finds himself in the middle of a terrorist bombing. My favorite aspect of The Goldfinch is the vividly rendered, slightly strange cast of characters. Every person in this story seems quirky and interesting, even relatively minor ones like Xandra, and I loved Theo’s friends Andy and especially Boris.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
An amazing achievement of creative invention, full of philosophy and adventure and encyclopedia detail. You can find a thousand essays or analyses if you want to know what it’s about, or what Melville was trying to do, so I won’t bother going into that. I’ll just say, I loved this book so much, and I look forward to reading it again.
Aside from The Goldfinch, a new book which I believe will stand the test of time, this has been a great year for catching up for major novels of the past.