Brow Beat

Writer William Giraldi Wishes Everyone Would Please Stop Likening Him to a Literary Genius

Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy, whose work is obviously nothing like William Giraldi’s.

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

The comedy event of the fall season has arrived courtesy of novelist William Giraldi, whose cri de coeurCompliments Are Nice, but Enough With the Cormac McCarthy Comparisons” currently sits on the homepage of the Daily Beast. Yes, Giraldi has penned the ultimate humblebrag: a plea that we stop discussing him by invoking one of the country’s greatest living novelists.

It seems that this bothersome comparison has especially pestered Giraldi with the release of his second novel, Hold the Dark. The completely un-McCarthy like novel, Giraldi explains, is a journey “into the gelid wilds of Alaska, into the village-living of a clan forgotten, forsaken by civilization.” Protagonist Medora Slone (“my Medea,” says Giraldi) “summons the wolf scholar Russell Core to investigate” missing children, “and once he arrives at the furthermost reaches of American soil, in this austere and fatal landscape, he must oppose not only the enigma of evil and the indifferent majesty of nature, but his own spiritual banishment.” From these descriptions, it’s hard to see how “well-meaning readers” persist in likening that darkness to the specific grim pitch of our “regnant mafioso of the American masculine … the unrepentant vicar of violence.”

And who can’t relate to those terrible times when the world won’t stop nattering about how you remind it of a literary genius. (I hate when people describe me as the female Tolstoy. I’m not even Russian!) The outrage has even driven Giraldi into a prophetic register, and a kind of obsolete vernacular. Here are some more words and phrases Giraldi employs in his article: “Cowboy-booted paragon,” “agon,” “a confluence of imagos,” “death’s dominion,” “medieval minded crooner of darkling forces,” “maelstrom of blood and pain,” “pageantry and mythos,” “the widespread swamps of middling prose.” It is very, as one of my colleagues puts it, “orotund thesaurus,” very aggro language-gladiator.

But I digress. The point is that, for all the burden of these unfair associations with the author of Suttree and Blood Meridian, Giraldi (who you might remember from his notoriously over-the-top pan of Alix Ohlin’s Signs and Wonders for the New York Times Book Review) hasn’t even read a lot of McCarthy’s stuff. “This is going to sound like both sacrilege and a lacuna in my learning, I realize,” Giraldi confesses, but “with the exception of Child of God, I don’t know McCarthy’s work all that well.” (He recommends we compare him, instead, to Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad, or Homer.)

Hmm. Loath as I am be a Giraldi-McCarthy truther, I have to note that Giraldi did write this July article for the New Republic, censuring James Franco for failing to evoke McCarthy’s writing with his adaption of Child of God. In that article he references Blood Meridian’s “cavernous interiority, its phantasmagoric wildness, its vagaries of spirit and grapple with damnation.” And the author seems familiar enough with McCarthy’s prose style to pronounce it “lyrically pitched and deeply interior, pressurized with visceral and spiritual chaos.” But heck, maybe he got that from Goodreads.