How to Write a Novel

Cormac McCarthy is so fine a writer-for my money the best novelist in America today-that he and his work must be accepted pretty much on their own terms. Criticism therefore, in the case of Mr. McCarthy, is reducible largely to questions of taste. He has published now six novels, all of them distinguished for reality of experience and presence of language, for the beauty of their black lyricism shot with comic lightnings, and for consummate artistry. The other five, while marked by considerable differences in subject and material, are nevertheless of a piece both stylistically and philosophically. Blood Meridian (1985), a novel based on the depredations of the John Clanton party-American scalp-hunters paid by the Mexican government to wipe out as many Apaches as they could find and kill-represented McCarthy's boldest departure to date from the earlier work, a change in direction that was signaled but not summed up by the historical dimension and the switch from a Southern to a Southwestern locale. Now, with All the Pretty Horses, he has made an even more dramatic break. At 58-an age by which most American writers have long since played themselves out-Cormac McCarthy continues to improve as an artist and to write better, and still better, books. 

It is possible that Pretty Horses is a less ambitious novel than Blood Meridian; it is not, however, a lesser work. When Cormac McCarthy makes...

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