Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Literary fiction and the Christian Right

Here's a good (and very funny) example of the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction. Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men is in one sense a conventional thriller, a page-turner about drug-running and law enforcement on the Tex-Mex border (think of the movie Traffic). In addition to being beautifully written in the McCarthy fashion, however, it is lifted out of the run-of-the-mill crime-novel category by the wonderful, fully dimensional character of Sheriff Bell, a genuine philosopher of human nature (and a good Christian man as well). His reflections, with their regional speech patterns intact, punctuate the otherwise unstoppable plot. When we are tempted to say something scornful about the Christian Right (which many of us are, several times a day) we would do well to ponder Sheriff Bell's wisdom:

"Here a year or two back me and Loretta [his wife] went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talking about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin something bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, she said: I don't like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don't think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I don't have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation."

No Country For Old Men reminds me of an excellent movie from a few years back, A Simple Plan (based on a book of the same name which I have not yet read). McCarthy's book and the movie both tell stories of ordinary, decent people who are drawn into terrible crime and cover-ups because of money that falls—so to speak—into their laps.

Some McCarthy fans thought he was slumming with this one, but I found it thought-provoking and I recommend it, though I grant it is a lesser effort compared to his great works (Blood Meridian, The Road for starters). Be warned, however; no novelist has ever had a darker vision.