Friday, June 14, 2013
June 10 & 17, 2013 Issue
The transfixing specificity of the procedure used to decapitate the “green-leather motorcyclist” in Cormac McCarthy’s “Scenes of the Crime,” in this week’s issue, invaded my imagination, and still haunts me, as I write this, three days after I read it. Only McCarthy could’ve written it – the same McCarthy who wrote what is, for me, one of literature’s most vivid, powerful, lyrical, horrifying, mesmerizing, violent scenes. I’m referring to the deadly knife-fight between the pimp Eduardo and John Grady Cole near the end of McCarthy’s extraordinary Border Trilogy. “Bar ditch” and “blacktop” figure in the Border Trilogy (although only in passing), as they do (more centrally) in “Scenes of the Crime.” In the series' second book, The Crossing, McCarthy writes, “He crossed through the bar ditch and rode up onto the blacktop and slowed the horse and looked back.” In “Scenes of the Crime,” the green rider is killed on the blacktop, and the septic-tank truck driver (“the wire man”) is fatally shot by “the wounded man” in the bar ditch. It’s all very surreal. Yet the details [e.g., the flatbed truck, the floodlight, the humming wire, the bouncing helmet (with the green rider’s head inside it), the brown sewage spouting from the bullet hole in the septic-tank] are amazing – “solidity within unreality,” as Updike said about Magritte (Always Looking, 2012). As spellbinding as “Scenes of the Crime” is, it contains only one sentence that’s comparable to the Border Trilogy’s inspired writing. It’s a description of what happens to the motorcycle after its rider’s head “zips away”: “The bike continues on, the motor slows and dies to silence, and in the distance we see a long slither of sparks recede into the dark.” That “long slither of sparks” is very fine.