Friday, August 13, 2010

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1985

It's about: Blood Meridian is considered to be Cormac McCarthy's best work and a classic of 20th century American Literature. Harold Bloom (!) even called it "clearly the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer." This book is about the Kid, a 14 year old from Tennessee who, (according to the back cover of my edition,) "stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving." The Kid joins up with a group of stragglers who are paid for each Indian scalp they can collect - including scalps of women and children. These men love drinking, getting in gun fights, and killing puppies for fun. (Seriously.) The Kid is set against the Judge, an extremely intelligent yet brutal man who has devoted his life to violence and murder. This book is infamous for its long, seemingly gratuitous descriptions of horrendous violence.

"Dawn saw them deployed in a long file over the plain ..." (via Flavorwire)

I thought: I think I deserve a huge round of applause for muscling my way through this book. If anything I think it made my stomach or throat muscles stronger because despite all the nausea this book caused me I did not throw up once! But that said, the ending was incredibly chilling, the writing strong, and ultimately I'm glad I read it. I particularly liked how McCarthy's description of the landscape echoed the violence that occurs there.

They rode on and the sun in the east flushed pale streaks of light and then a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise and where the earth drained up into the sky at the edge of creation the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus until it cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing and malevolent behind them.

And, of course, we have McCarthy's signature writing style, using no quotation marks and little punctuation (which somehow seems superfluous to this story anyway.) McCarthy is also loves to make his own compound words, which are very eerie. (For example, the word "goatbones" ... you have to admit that's a freaking creepy word.) I also liked the biblical tone to his writing, as well as the many allusions to the primal nature of man.

They were a hardbit denizenry and they shambled to the bar and back in their rags and skins like cavefolk ex­changing at some nameless trade.

Verdict: I am putting this one on the shelf.

Warnings: This book is only for the strong and for the brave. (Yes - that is meant to be taken as a challenge.) It contains strong language and extreme violence, including sexual violence.

Favorite excerpts:

"This country was filled with violent children orphaned by war."

"He shone like the moon so pale he was and not a hair to be seen anywhere upon that vast corpus, not in any crevice nor in the great bores of his nose and not upon his chest nor in his ears nor any tuft at all above his eyes nor to the lids thereof."

And my personal favorite -

"They were five men and they came up through the evergreens in the dark and all but stumbled upon the sleepers, two mounds in the snow one of which broke open and up out of which a figure sat suddenly like some terrible hatching."

(Check out this the artwork on this site of six artists who are attempting to illustrate every page of Blood Meridian, as featured above.)

Note: Patrick at The Literate Man encouraged me to finish this book after I had put it aside, so thank you Patrick. Click here to read his excellent review of Blood Meridian.