Pulp! Influences: Cormac McCarthy

Another one of the obvious influences on Beaten to a Pulp! is Cormac McCarthy. His beautifully spare father-and-son tale, The Road, set the bench mark for post-apocalyptic fiction in 2006, and in my opinion is yet to be beaten. While the genre has become saturated in recent years, particularly with the popularity of zombies in film, television and comic books, The Road stands above the crowd, as literary as it is sci-fi, sitting alongside the likes of JG Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962).

There is no apocalypse scenario these days that isn’t touched in some way by The Road’s barren landscapes, bleak survivalism and utterly brutal pragmatism, and the end-of-the-world stories in my collection – Green Fire (excerpt below) and Amongst the Rubble – are no exception.

All the ingredients are there: desolate cities, diseased nature, and desperate survivors willing to do anything. But where McCarthy’s story is almost unrelentingly bleak – the only flicker of hope is the tender love between the nameless father and son – I tried to approach the apocalypse narrative with a little humour.

In Green Fire I wrote about a squabbling couple struggling to carry on day-to-day in the ruins of their former lives and failing marriage – where they continue to nag at each other regardless of the situation.

Amongst the Rubble is more straight-forwardly in the mould set by McCarthy and his “cozy catastrophe” predecessors, John Wyndham and John Christopher. (A few years ago at uni I did an essay comparing The Road, The Day of the Triffids [1951] and The Death of Grass [1956] which, for an essay at least, I really enjoyed working on and introduced me to the wider range of environmental fiction outwith the post-apocalyptic stuff, including Henry David Thoreau, Terry Tempest Williams and Mary Austin’s beautiful The Land of Little Rain [1903].)

McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005) was also an influence on some of my crime stories and, more generally, in its example of lean, crafted prose. His text is plain, to the point and as bare as his desert settings.

You can read Beaten to a Pulp! here.

(Boring book cover photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Green Fire

When we woke to the ashes and coffee in the morning we realised there was more rubble than we could clean so we just left it. We didn’t clean the rings off of the coffee table either.

Mike hid in the bath tub.

The outside was extremely cold, and believe me, we were used to the cold. There was no ozone left, and no clouds left, and no electric blanket to keep the warmth in. Jilly suggested a warm drink, so we drank.

They scratch at the windows, in the dead of night.

We used to live in caves, we still do. For any outside historian, it’s like the middle part, the civilisation part, never really took place. Only our caves are a bit smarter. And the toilet still works. Lucky, really, some places were a lot worse. And once I cleaned Mike out of the tub you could have a bath if you heated enough water on the fire.

Jilly is threatening to leave me, says I don’t have enough interest in her, and what she does, and says, and worries about. That I don’t like her friends, that I don’t share her taste in music or films, that I don’t get along with her mother. I said I get along with her fine now.

A plate misses my head and smashes against the wall. The last of the wedding china.

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5 thoughts on “Pulp! Influences: Cormac McCarthy

  1. I love, love, love Cormac McCarthy’s work! I read ‘The Road’ back in 2009 and I couldn’t get enough of it, what a fantastic piece of fiction. I’ve also read ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘Blood Meridian’. I wasn’t so keen on ‘Blood Meridian’ and struggled to get through it, but still, I could appreciate the themes he worked with and the characters he created.


      1. Yeah it really is, it’s a little like wading through mud and a few times I felt as though I didn’t know what was happening.

        Liked by 1 person

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