These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain
by Cormac McCarthy

If I'd known this was the third in a trilogy I never would have read it, not having read the other two. Might have been nice of the publisher to have put that somewhere on the cover--front or back--so people who are just browsing the shelves (like me) might have some idea what we're getting into. Just a suggestion.

Anyway, I suppose McCarthy's writing is fine if you enjoy the Hemingway style, which I don't. I'm not sure what's so beautiful about sentences that go "He shaved and showered and toweled off and got dressed." Seems kind of ugly actually. Reminds me of the stories I wrote in junior high. But he has a Pulitzer and a National Book Award and I don't. Take that!

So the conclusion to this supposed trilogy no one bothered to tell me was a trilogy is basically a Western-style "Romeo & Juliet" or "West Side Story" where two kids from opposing sides fall in love. In this case John Grady Cole is a cowboy on a small New Mexico ranch in 1952 and the girl is a 16-year-old Mexican whore. If you know anything about "Romeo & Juliet" you know how this is going to turn out.

A few of the author's style choices left me more than a little confused. Let's go down the list:

  1. McCarthy doesn't use quotation marks so sometimes it's hard to know when someone is talking and when McCarthy is narrating.
  2. McCarthy is adverse to using proper names so you end up with confusing pronoun use like: "After Oren had gone he sat over his coffee for a long time." Who's "he?" Oren was the last guy referred to but it doesn't make any sense if he left the room to be sitting over his coffee. This is especially a problem when the author starts out a new section or chapter with "He" and then we have to wait a few sentences to figure out the "He" in question.
  3. Most aggravating of all is that the girl speaks only Spanish and McCarthy puts her lines IN Spanish. So tough luck if you don't know any Spanish. I wasn't too bad off since I took a few Spanish classes in high school, but some terms still threw me--and I didn't have a Spanish-English dictionary handy. If this were a movie we'd have the benefit of subtitles but in a novel we have to try and interpret the gist of it from the character's actions, sort of like playing charades.

I suppose that would have been fine for the unimportant characters, but a character central to the plot I sort of like to know what she's saying. Imagine if you were reading "Romeo & Juliet" and Juliet made all those romantic speeches to Romeo in Klingon? It just wouldn't have quite the same impact.

Another thing that bothered me is the characters are all so opaque. We never get inside their heads, so it's almost like a movie or TV show. The advantage of novels versus those mediums is that in a novel you can get inside the minds of the characters to see what makes them tick. Maybe since this was the conclusion of a trilogy the author figured he'd covered all that background already. But really I might as well have just popped in a DVD of "Unforgiven" or "Open Range" or something like that.

It's not all bad, though. Though I really can't substantiate it McCarthy seems to have a good eye for the period details. And there's some nice rapport between the cowboys that makes for good dialog. So at least it's not a boring read, except for the 30-page epilogue 50 years in the future that's mostly some old unnamed guy rambling on about dreams. I'm not sure what the point of that was.

Anyway, I suppose if you've read the other books in this supposed trilogy you'd be a lot better off than me.

That is all.

No comments: