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A Man Could Lose His Soul...
Commenté aux États-Unis 🇺🇸 le 20 avril 2008
Man finds lots of money. Man runs, is pursued. Many casualties ensue.
I came to McCarthy by way of
The Road (Oprah's Book Club)
, which was one of the most profoundly moving things I've read in fifteen years; I find myself thinking of that book and its setting, questions and issues almost daily. Through it I became aware of McCarthy's other work, and was eager to get to it. Then came the Coen brothers' brilliant
No Country for Old Men
, and I had to move this up in the reading queue. I did save the film until after I was done with the book, and I'm glad I did; this is better.
As in The Road, there are many unanswered questions about aspects of the story off the main narrative line--who did what, where characters and events came from, where they go, what happens next, etc. They are tantalizing, an aspect I have found that keeps McCarthy's work in my head, sorting through the unexplained, wondering in which way these superfluous stories could have gone. They are a great hook, providing tangential snippets of context to a circuitous, unpredictable yet headlong single story line.
This story is deceptive, beginning as a very west Texas noir tale of adventure. I was reminded of James Dickey's magnificent
DELIVERANCE (BLOOMSBURY FILM CLASSICS S.)
. But while Deliverance was Dickey's rumination on what exactly it means to be a man in the age of the office job, Lay Z Boy recliners and strip malls, McCarthy posits a much more simple question: are you ready to be a man when the time comes?
When Life--with that capital L--comes at you and delivers unbidden the horrific, tragic or sublimely blissful, will you be ready? Can you make yourself ready; is there any way to prepare? And if you think you're ready, are you really? McCarthy asks: what have you done, and in the same breath, what have you not done? What have you overlooked, and what--this is crucial--happens to you and others depending on how ready you are? What are you prepared to do? How far will you go?
Being ready means being prepared to act instantly, outside of cultural and societal norms, against your upbringing and your education, at the most basic level, not unthinkingly, but unflinchingly and uncompromisingly. Can you strip it all away, and if you do what does that make you? Can you come back?
This is where a man can lose his soul. Both The Road and this work make it clear that there is a point where a man chooses to keep or forfeit his humanity, his dignity, when he chooses decency over barbarism. McCarthy's exploration shows that when the choice--made consciously--is for dignity and righteousness, ultimately it is self-destructive.
McCarthy's work has a place for those who hold on to that uniquely human core of decency, who see what really needs to be done, the ugly and brutal which may need to be done for survival, and in essence condemn themselves, usually wittingly, by remaining true to decency and the care/service of others. Death is coming for us all, only a matter of time, so why not take a stand and choose your time and place, and do it with a self-determined honor, with a clean slate? There may be a reckoning--that's really as far as I see McCarthy going down that road of Good v. Evil, God v. Satan--but if there is, these decisions will tip that scale, and for those that remain behind you live on as an example of the right choice.
The book's style is sparse, matching the desert and scrubland the story inhabits. McCarthy's narrative convention of not using quotations is here, but is neither a distraction nor does it lend to confusion. The narrative structure is essentially cinematic, with the sheriff-narrator providing a voiceover context, the real depth of the story, and the chapters often moving in parallel. The dialog flows as easily and effortlessly as Elmore Leonard's best, and there is no question as to what is happening in the narrative.
Surprisingly, the "action," the main story, was done well before the book was. The bulk of the book and the story of money, guns and blood exists as the extended setup for one man's rumination on life's purpose, the existence of God, and what it means to be true to yourself, those you love, and those you serve. This is the last 40-odd pages of the book, and where the deepest contemplation lies. There is a lot going on here, with a lot of to my reading earnest exploration of a man's purpose, his honor, his character, and ultimately his identity. Is God out there? And if he is, and if he's the kind of guy we've all been told he is, how is it that life plays out in these ways?
Bottom line: This is no happy, light and frothy, stereotypically inane TV-style read of a luckless loner who makes good after some minor tribulation. The story is stark and dark, violent and unflinching, just as life is. McCarthy poses a pessimistic vision of where we are and where we are headed, and explores whether the noble choice of decency and selflessness is tenable, even though it seems to be suicidal.
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