Comparisons to Cormac McCarthy can be either a huge compliment or an accusation. On the one hand, he is one of the most admired writers of all time, an influential figure who writes as close to flawless works of fiction as it’s possible to write. Anyone who is told they write like him should surely be happy. No?
Well there is another side to it. When I was studying for my Masters in Creative Writing, there was a group of core McCarthy fans who would roll their eyes whenever someone’s sentences started slipping towards the prose styling of this unique and easily identifiable author. If the stories were also something that Cormac might have come up with, there would be a bit of bitching in the pub afterwards. At some point, over a pint, this sentence would be uttered: ‘Someone’s been reading McCarthy again’.
Jesus Carrasco has definitely been reading McCarthy. As a kid wanders alone through a desert landscape, fearful of who he might meet down the road and who might be following him, you could easily mistake the book in your hands for Blood Meridian. Once he meets an old man, who helps him first with food and later with protection, their late night meals around barely lit fires are reminiscent of scenes that fill the pages of The Road. And at one point, after ‘the boy’ (recognise that moniker from The Road at all?) has left behind somebody he hurt, the old man tells him they must go back. ‘He too is a child of God,’ he says. In actually lifting that line from McCarthy’s Child of God, it feels as if Carrasco even tries to point out the similarities shared by his own work and that of his American predecessor.
But is this particular comparison to McCarthy a compliment or a curse? Maybe a little bit of both. Undoubtedly, from his story and his structure to his sentences, we are witnessing the debut novel of a huge McCarthy fan when we read Out in the Open. Comparisons are absolutely unavoidable, and that will no doubt bring criticisms.
Despite all of that, though, the novel is an intense, gripping, and emotional piece of work. Yes, I shook my head every now and then when reminded of the work of my favourite writer, but I didn’t even come close to putting the novel down. I was hooked. I wanted to know what the boy was running away from, I wanted to know if he’d escape, I wanted the old man to be the force of good he appeared to be, and not another villain in disguise. I cared. Maybe not as much as I cared about ‘the boy’ in McCarthy’s The Road, but enough to make me rush through the book in a couple of days.
Any Cop?: One thing we should probably remember is that this version of the novel is translated from the Spanish original. Although there can be no doubting that a certain author has influenced Carrasco’s plots, the similarities in style may have been less apparent in the original language. And then we have to ask ourselves how much we care. A great deal of good literature is imitation anyway, and if you imitate the best and come up with a novel as readable as this one, maybe that isn’t a problem at all.