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Melville, Lawrence, Conrad, Hardy, and Hopkins?

It’s a minor thing, but one that niggles. James Wood’s New Republic review of The Road is considering and informative, nuanced so as to create an argument about the novel that’s worth affirming or refuting. It does what a good review should. But Wood’s efforts to compare McCarthy to other writers correspond to no pattern at all. Most egregious is this paragraph, in which Wood begins by offering to place McCarthy in “company of the American masters”:

In his best pages one can hear Melville and Lawrence, Conrad and Hardy. His novels are full of marvelous depictions of birds in flight, and The Road has a gorgeous paragraph like something out of Hopkins.

That’s Herman Melville, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins—Melville and perhaps D.H. Lawrence (in a expatriated-from-England, living-in-Taos-late-in-life kind of way) being the only American masters in the list. Conrad is Wood’s most consistent index, and Melville and Hardy appear frequently but without any indication why. It’s supposed to be self-evident, I guess.

There’s a fine line a review walks between real comparison and name-dropping; if one’s committed to walking that line as Wood is, shouldn’t one be at least somewhat precise?



Shorter me: if you’re going to locate a writer in a tradition, locate the tradition.