Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Bugs Me Wednesday: Deus ex machina

-"Swing away, Merrill! Deus ex machina's got you covered!"

This may be somewhat related to last week’s complaint, but you know what really bugs me? Deus ex machina.

That’s right, the plot device of last resort (it should be, anyway-) when a character paints themselves into a corner, or finds themselves in a hopeless situation, and some outside force or event swoops in to save their bacon. It’s maddening. You don’t often find it in so-called “high literature,” but it rears its ugly head every now and again. Take Cormack McCarthy’s The Road,  for example.

I loved that book. I loved how McCarthy pulled off ‘post-apocolyptic’ while remaining completely apolitical. That, in itself, is pretty refreshing. But given the bleak existence of his father and son duo in that book, their amazingly good luck in a couple of tight spots laps right up against the borders of Deus ex machina.

Literally starving to death in a scorched landscape where all food sources have been picked clean by raiders, they happen upon an untouched underground cache filled with everything you could imagine. Awfully convenient. Later on, and in similarly dire straits they discover a pristine cistern of crystal clear water under a layer of rain gutter scum. Finally, with his father dead for two days, the boy ventures back out to the road and meets, not another marauding gang or cannibalistic maniac, but one of the last remaining ‘good guys’ who promises to protect him. McCarthy pulls it off because he’s that good, but it still strikes me as a little too convenient when it’s all said and done.

I’ve mentioned Guiraldes’ Don Segundo Sombra  before. In that classic of Argentine literature, the main character works his way up as a gaucho, earning his stripes, not to mention a nice little nest egg that he then blows on an ill-advised cock-fight bet. Gone is his hope for the future, gone is his dream of owning “a string of ponies all of one color” ….  Until he inherits his own ranch out of nowhere, that is. Deus ex machina strikes again. And yeah, it kind of bugs me.

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