The Emperor Wins Another Prize

by | Aug 27, 2007 | Literature

Related Categories: Literature
Posts by: Brian

Yes, I know these entries are getting further and further apart. No, I don’t know whether this marks a trend. It may be that I’ve been trying to focus on Big Rock Candy Mountain, which is going well, thank you, and that the blog has been too much of a distraction. Or it may be (insert reason here). Who knows?

But I have just read a horribly depressing bit of news, so now I need to vent. Here’s the news:

             The University of Edinburgh announced over the weekend that (Cormac) McCarthy won this year’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction for “The Road,” which has already garnered the author a Pulitzer Prize.

I’ve read two of McCarthy’s novels, and I thought they both pretty much stunk, but The Road in particular struck me as one of those things, like Philip Roth’s The Breast, that should never have been published at all. Writers need to get junk out of their heads sometimes. I understand that, but why, just because a famous writer wrote something, does it have to get published?

The Road is an infinitely depressing account of a father and son pushing a shopping cart along the road in post-apocalyptic America. All the plants, animals, birds, bees, and fish are dead. A wheel on the shopping cart goes bad, and it’s hard to find a replacement. Everything is covered in dust, and there’s nothing to eat. They find a can of soda-pop that previous looters have missed. Hooray!   They find some home-canned tomatoes, but decide they might have gone bad. Drat. All the time, they have to watch out for the cannibals. They find a basement full of people waiting to get eaten by the cannibals, but there’s nothing they can do about it. They find some food, and they eat it. The father dies. The son gets taken in by some people who aren’t cannibals.

Ed Wood might have made a classic B movie out of this pig, nor would it be out of place in a pulp sci-fi magazine. I don’t fault it for those things. What drove me crazy, reading it, was that the writing was so dull. Dull dull dull dull dull.


I had no idea, when I read it, which was just a few short months ago, that it had won the Pulitzer. What does the Pulitzer pay? The Tait pays twenty grand. Argh. Now, I’m not as naïve as I may sometimes seem. I know that the vast bulk of fiction is, was, and always will be disposable. But what depresses me is that the gatekeepers of serious literature are no more discriminating than Oprah or than all the ministers who praised the emperor’s new clothes to the heavens while actually all the emperor had to show the world was his great hairy stinking butt.