Some Thoughts on ‘Outer Dark’

I’m drawing near to the end of ‘Outer Dark,’ which has proved to be the bleakest Cormac McCarthy book I’ve yet read. His books, as a rule, are sparse. The dialogue is fast and real – I don’t know if anyone has captured various dialects of the Appalachian region as well as McCarthy has in his novels. What’s interesting though is that I’d describe his books as sparse – when only the dialogue is deserves that description. Descriptions of the landscape run on with powerful language – not flowery, not overdone, but powerful and yet it still feels sparse, and so far this book seems to be where his gift for sparse-feeling narrative with rich, powerful use of language shines the brightest.

The terseness that makes up his work is a powerful tool. Events simply happen, and dialogue simply is spoken. There’s no embellishment of either of those in his works. The simplicity with which the horrifying events that create the framework of the narrative are conveyed add to their horror, because they simply happen, in an all-too-real fashion. This, I think, is what makes McCarthy’s depictions of human depravity so bleak. The portrayal of the depths to which people can sink is not shocking or played for any effect. It just is. No special effects, no dramatic pauses. Just simple human depravity.

What’s interesting is McCarthy’s use and description of landscapes. He devotes minimal space to dialogue, but the landscape of the narrative becomes a character in and of itself. It takes on a feel of someone standing in the background, which is different than most narratives. Here, the landscape is almost (almost) a participant. This use of landscape reaches its peak in ‘The Crossing,’ (book two of  ‘The Border Trilogy’).

It’s definitely a less mythological kind of story, at least in its feel, than say ‘The Border Trilogy,’ or ‘Suttree.’ This novel feels much more real, much more bare-bones, but with some of the dreamy aspects of the other mentioned works.

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