Cormac McCarthy’s West: The Border Annotations.
By James Bell, Introduction by Patrick Shaw. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 2002. xxii, 154 pages. Maps, illus. notes, bibliog.
If Larry McMurtry is the Gray Eminence of Texas Letters, Cormac McCarthy is the Red Eminence. As an established writer of Kentucky, he moved to El Paso, and his scenes shifted from wet cave lands to dry plains. The old saints Porter and Goyen might pause before the Gray and Red bookshelves, admiring McMurtry’s canon, movies, and lifestyle and maybe pausing pensively to reach for McCarthy’s trail of allusive density.
“Allusive density,” such is Patrick Shaw’s term to describe an element of the El Paso cardinal’s holy work. James Bell’s work is a spiffed up doctoral dissertation, compiling these allusions into simple systems with commentary to ease the reader into the text. It reminds this reader of the creative readership of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring trilogy – the maps, the directories, the countless accessories “needed” to understand or expand the great written image. If creative literature is judged by the amount and texture of its commentary, Bell shows the texture is palpable.
In a way it’s rather simple. For each of the trilogy titles (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain), Bell indexes and annotates the chronological references and then does the same for the characters and then does the same for the place names. Following those 9 indexes, he provides two others, cultural allusions and historical allusions in the Trilogy. Flipping through the pages, the reviewer finds words that attract as labeled photos in a family scrapbook. With the garden hoed so well by Bell, others can now come and pick further fruits. But will it all lead to desolation on down The Road.