Let’s play a quick game of word association. Ready? CORMAC MCCARTHY.
What’s the first word you thought? Darkness? Despair? Faulknerian? Depression? Violence? Death?
How about funny?
Of the words that come to mind when contemplating the work of Cormac McCarthy, surely one of the rarest is funny. Even readers with a jet-black sense of humor would be hard-pressed to find his consistently gritty, desolate, death-obsessed work comedic. Even McCarthy’s contribution to the SR in the spring of 1965, “Dark Waters”—an excerpt from his then forthcoming debut novel The Orchard Keeper and relatively light fare for McCarthy—is cast in gloomy hues. (A quick aside for you trivia buffs: in the same year and season McCarthy published “Bounty, a Story,” an excerpt from the same novel, in the Yale Review, the second oldest literary quarterly in the United States. These near simultaneous publications complicate the question of who published the famous author first.)
And yet, funny is exactly what James McWilliams argues Cormac McCarthy is in his essay “Darkness Laughable: The Comic Genius of Cormac McCarthy,” published recently in the Pacific Standard. With deft critical acrobatics, McWilliams skillfully (and readably) argues that Outer Dark “is a funny book” (this a novel whose plot, McWilliams notes, revolves around “serial necrophilia”).
His ability to imbue violence with humor not only rescues the most morbid scenes from pointless grotesquerie, but it lends insight into the human condition, reminding us that violence harbors a kernel of humor.
Whether or not you agree with the essay, there’s now a new forum to discuss all matters McCarthy. As McWilliams points out, beginning in 2015 Penn State University Press will begin publishing The Cormac McCarthy Journal.