In a few minutes the door opened and a young mozo stood there and he and the rider spoke and the man nodded toward the outside and the mozo looked toward the outer door and at the other rider and at the boy and then withdrew and shut the door. They waited. – Cormac McCarthy. The Crossing.
I pulled this sentence from McCarthy’s The Crossing for a couple of reasons.
- The content of the sentence isn’t profound, as in it will never be found in quotebooks, but it’s interesting to see how a master handles minutae. Three people meet and stand there looking at each other. It’s not profound. It’s not critical to the plot. But it is critical to the making of the world, both for the reader and the author. All of McCarthy’s books reshape the desires of the heart like a magnet in metal shavings, and they do it by sparking the imagination. It’s important for the author because he has to love what he is creating. It’s important for the reader because his love has to be ignited and moved. Essentially, he is creating a world in which both the author and the reader can inhabit and cultivate and move about the spectrum of human experience. And experience is nothing but minutae. Sometimes one experience becomes profound, such as the birth of a child, but it is still only one experience in the millions we have each day. McCarthy handles insignificant events, such as the quoted one, with the same language as he does the disappearance and death of a brother later in the book.
- Secondly, in one sentence McCarthy uses the conjunction and nine times without using a single comma. In effect, the rhythm makes the reader wait. You can feel the tension of the plot even in the grammar. It’s common knowledge that the King James version of the Bible has been a major influence on McCarthy, both stylistically and thematically, but one can easily see the influence in a sentence like this. Take a look at the book of Genesis: The creation account of Chapter 1 has 35 sentences; all but two begin with the word “and”. Also, there are over 100 occurrences of the word “and” in those 35 sentences. Interestingly, the narrators of the Bible handle significant events, like birth, death, battle, the creation of the world, with the same language as any of the insignificant events, like the market rate of real estate. I think the effect that it has is raising all of the events to a higher level of significance; like a quiet man whose words are wise, and who holds weight in conversation. He has no need to shout, but men rather stop their own chatter to listen.