Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Road Ruiner

You might remember that a couple of months back, I went into pretty good detail about how monumentally moved I was by Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007. For anyone who missed it, either the column or the novel itself, the book is simply a flat-out masterpiece. It's honestly -- and I'm sorry for the hyperbole but I don't think I'm overstating it here -- damn near a life-changer, the kind of searingly powerful piece of writing that comes along only a few times in a generation. It's just that good -- that potent.

Whether you find yourself personally affected by The Road or not, it seems almost impossible to deny McCarthy's skill in creating something of such breathtaking poetic beauty; you'd have to be an idiot -- or maybe someone who gets a visceral thrill out of being a contrarian just for the hell of it -- to argue with the fact that the man can write like a son-of-a-bitch.

Well, I'll let you decide which one of the two Salon's Stephanie Zacharek is. Her review of the film adaptation of The Road -- a movie which hits theaters this weekend -- is actually not much more than an excuse for her to air what are obviously some long pent-up grievances against the book. Now of course everyone's entitled to his or her opinion and God knows I've taken plenty of shots at people higher up the cultural food chain than I am, but Zacharek's review comes off as laughably petty -- to say nothing of mildly disconnected from reality; her denigration not just of the book but of McCarthy's writing in general left my fucking jaw hanging open -- not because I think it's impossible to criticize Cormac McCarthy, but because Stephanie Zacharek calling Cormac McCarthy "gracelessly repetitive" is like the president of the Amarillo High School A.V. club calling Stanley Kubrick a "painfully tedious" filmmaker.

Salon has some really terrific writers and reporters -- Joan Walsh, Mike Madden and Glenn Greenwald immediately come to mind. Then it has the wonder twins of movie and TV criticism: Stephanie Zacharek and Heather Havrilesky, respectively. Havrilesky in particular is to me what Tom Friedman is to Matt Taibbi -- a writer so bloody awful that I can't help but read. Her regular column is sort of like -- to borrow a line from the movie Go -- The Family Circus of commentary; it's impossible to ignore because it just sits there every Sunday, waiting to suck.

Don't believe me? Try to make it through this.

As for Zacharek's review of The Road, you have to see that for yourself as well -- and make sure to pore over the comment section to see how many others feel the same way I do.

Salon: "The Road: Post-Apocalypse Now" by Stephanie Zacharek/11.25.09


BenoƮt from Ottawa said...

"for her to air what are obviously some long pent-up grievances against book"

VirginiaO'Possum said...

Weird. Two of my internet must-reads are Havrilesky's TV reviews and you, Chez. Zacharek sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't; and although at first I found Taibbi absolutely great, once in a while he gets boring. I must be bilingual.

Chez said...

I'm trying out my new cliche Indian voice.

Matt Osborne said...

I watched two guys give The Road a horrible review the other night, and their main complaint was that it was depressing and dark.


This is what people watch on basic cable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Chez, I know you liked the book, but I found it bleak and dull. I haven't seen the movie and won't likely see it until it's on DVD. I liked Blood Meridian, and The Orchard Keeper, but The Road just didn't seem to have enough happen. I didn't find the cannibalism all that shocking, considering it has been used time and again in post-apocalpytic tales. The only part of the book that drew me in was the bit in root cellar/ fallout shelter (can't remember which he termed it as.)

Chez said...

I'm sure Havrilesky's a really nice person, Virginia -- I just wish she didn't talk like she's 14.

a.j.g. said...

Did she... did she call McCarthy PRISSY???

ErinM said...

The emotional content of the Road is not my style -- I did not enjoy reading it. That said, I cannot argue with the opinion that the writing is masterful. While I found it unpleasant to be in McCarthy's world, I was completely immersed in it for the entire length of the book, and while I did not enjoy suffering along with the father and child, I definitely suffered with them.

Just as I can appreciate the craft behind a beer I personally find too hoppy, I can appreciate the art behind a book I would never read again if you paid me.

Anonymous @ 5:25 -- oh, yeah. (shudders)

Adrienne Saia said...

"By its nature, film is more immediate and visually direct than literature."

"His picture is straightforward in ways the novel only pretends to be."

CREATING ONES OWN MENTAL PICTURE IS THE WHOLE GODDAMN POINT OF A BOOK... especially one that works in pronouns and unnamed places. You create the world in your head.

She should leave literary critiques to people who can appreciate that reading requires more intensive mental engagement than does watching.

ZIRGAR said...

I think The Road is one of the best novels of recent times and Cormac McCarthy one of the finest prose practitioners alive today. Calling McCarthy's story gracelessly repetitive, therefore flawed, is akin to calling DNA unoriginal because it only has four nucleotides as its base.
McCarthy plumbs the bitter, ugly abyss of the human soul, but only with the shining, humane light of the Man and the Boy, whose warming glow in a world of gloom and despair, shows not just the details of those depraved depths but also the road out.

Lisa said...

"The Road" is not a cup of tea, curl up by a cozy fire sort of book. At all. But it truly got under my skin and it's one of the few books I've read that cause me to actually speak out loud "oh my God" when I finished it. I remember it was like coming out of a dream; I felt so detached and felt the need to just be around people.

That's damn good writing, to me.

John said...

I don't think it's McCarthy she's angry at, but rather books in general. I get the feeling someone handed her one and said "It's like a movie, but you read it" and she threw it across the room and stomped away screaming "words are yucky!"

Jadine said...

I read The Road early this year and have encouraged many of my friends to read it since. However, I don't think I will see the movie. The story is bleak but at the same time captures the absolute love of a parent for a child and the power of hope. For me it is probably one of the best books I've ever read.

Felis Femina said...

I had to stop reading her review when I got to the phrase "flounciest literary toodling." Some might say that's the pot calling the kettle black.

Joash said...

It's one thing to denigrate the things a writer does with their talent; it's quite another thing to denigrate the talent itself. Some people don't like McCarthy's writing, and I can respect that; but to imply that McCarthy isn't mindful of his visuals, and their ultimate effect is straight up ignorant.
As for Havrilesky, I think her often Pavlovian and infantile writing style is a reflection of the medium she critiques. I've always gotten the sense that she's in on the joke.