Thursday, December 10, 2015

McCarthy's Use of the Complex Sentence

Still reading The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy. Got into part two and my reading just really slowed down. It's not that it isn't interesting, just that there is a ton to process. Here is a quote from part 2, page 129:
"They rode the high country for weeks and they grew thin and gaunted man and horse and the horse grazed on the sparse winter grass in the mountains and gnawed the lichens from the rock and the boy shot trout with his arrows where they stood above their shadows on the cold stone floors of the pools and he ate them and ate green nopal and then on a windy day traversing a high saddle in the mountains a hawk passed before the sun and its shadow ran so quick in the grass before them that it caused the horse to shy and the boy looked up where the bird turned high above them and he took the bow from his shoulder and nocked and loosed an arrow and watched it rise with the wind rattling the fletching slotted into the cane and watched it turning and arcing and the hawk wheeling and then flaring suddenly with the arrow locked in its pale breast."
If you have ever read McCarthy (or Faulkner, or Morrison for that matter) you know that he likes the long sentence. Part of his style. In this case I believe that McCarthy is using this to suggest that time is passing, but it seems that all of time is sloughing into itself. You cannot really tell when things are happening; it seems that it is all happening at once. All at one time. His use of the conjunction "and" accomplishes this task. The sentence isn't incorrect, just very long and drawn out. It helps the reader to feel the exhausting nature of this journey. And this happened, and this happened, and this happened. I don't think that most writers should use this style. This is reserved for those masters who are allowed to break the rules.

1 comment:

  1. McCarthy is so great in part because he combines Hemingway and Faulkner: Hemingway's clean, relatively short additive sentences and Faulkner's relatively longer additive sentences. From Hemingway he got a preference for verbs over adjectives; he did not borrow the old Southerner's preference for adjectives over verbs but did borrow the length of his sentences. Viz.:

    In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

    —Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

    From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that—a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

    —Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!