There are other reasons. One is that this novel’s narrative journey of brutality doesn’t have a conventional storyline where character and plot development become enticing. The other, and obviously related, is that this very brutality cannot be enticing either – unless you are a psychopath – but that isn’t to say such grotesquery alienates. And it isn’t that one becomes dulled to the violence. Rather McCarthy is so relentless in conveying the horror, but also does so with such beautiful language and/or language that is compelling in its vividness, that the horrors are not so horrible [but they are: the paradox that is also compelling so that you do keep coming back whatever the gaps in between] and so we return to the fact there isn’t the conventional narrative sequencing that makes one want and need to read for the next development. We know what the next development will be, and it will be as appalling as the one before and after and there is no variation in the sustained zenith of this.
There is no judgement in the description either. And because there is no authorial view there is no conventional sense that there will be retribution for those committing such evil, or redemption for the same. This should be utterly nihilistic then, and I guess it is, but it is also just how it is. And that is why one can take so long to read – whatever the reasons – because nothing changes although there is always the dreadfulness.
I didn’t think it would be possible to trump, so to speak, the violence described in the Apache raid [exemplified in a previous post here, though the extract quoted is more about style than content], but Chapter 13’s account of the spontaneous, indiscriminate, kneejerk, calculating and inexorable slaughter of the Mexican villages passed through is a kind of writing, both in content and style, that is entirely new to me. I read fascinated but I don’t read on because I want to find out how things progress/develop. I know what will come. I read on because of the language McCarthy uses to describe such butchery and mayhem that in its descriptive beauty and evocation manages to counterbalance the depravity of what it is describing with the elevation of poetry. I know Shakespeare mastered this so it is hardly original in that literary historical sense, but McCarthy’s prose presents a modern equivalent, distinctly American, if you’ll excuse the platitude:
An old woman knelt at the blackened stones before her door and poked brush into the coals and blew back a flame from the ashes and began to right the overturned pots. All about her the dead lay with their peeled skulls like polyps bluely wet or luminescent melons cooling on some mesa of the moon. In the days to come the frail black rebuses of blood in those sands would crack and break and drift away so that in the circuit of few suns all trace of the destruction of these people would be erased. The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, nor ghost nor scribe, to tell to any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and in this place died.