Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bow before this work of blood and violence and few commas

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

Ok, I have to say I LOVE Cormac McCarthy. LOVE LOVE LOVE him. In fact to do him honor I will try to write sparsely using commas as little as possible. This will be hard for I do love my commas but if you try writing like McCarthy you'll find it has its benefits.

In speaking of the author's great genius for the written word I have to be honest: if I were playing the role of Mr. McCarthy I would be a royal prick. The man who wrote Blood Meridian deserves a little step and fetch is all I’m saying. In other words: bow down, plebs. At least that’s how I would act had I his great talent. Hell if Paris fucking Hilton can pull a diva act despite the presence of any discernible talent other than the ability to flash her cootch and drive drunk, I’d say McCarthy can pull diva in spades. And yet after seeing McCarthy’s Oprah interview (his only television interview ever), I’m shocked by how down-to-earth -- nay humble -- the man is. More astonishingly the man who wrote of dead babies and scalped Indians is one of the gentlest men I’ve seen on TV. Now how’s that for irony?

Anyone who has read Blood Meridian cannot remain unaffected by it, regardless of how one feels about the book. Good lord what a book, what an amazing, unforgettable book, and I loathe Westerns so this is saying something. Of course, Blood Meridian is more than just your average Western -- it's history. The Glanton gang did exist, the events depicted in the novel are historically accurate, and many characters -- including the Judge -- were real.

But a warning for those who would attempt this one: Blood Meridian is not for the faint of heart. (Then again, I suppose neither was The Road.) It was interesting to read two of McCarthy’s most famous works at the same time; the two are quite similar and yet utterly different. The Road was easier to read even though it features all the hallmarks of McCarthy’s prose (which becomes easier as one reads him). However The Road affects one emotionally; Blood Meridian is intellectually speaking the greater masterpiece, and though I didn’t enjoy it at every turn it is a novel that will be with me for a long long time.

Blood Meridian follows “the kid,” a 14-year-old orphan who joins a group of scalp-hungry bounty hunters scouring the Texas-Mexico border for Indians. These killers, led by the powerful Judge Holden (more about him later), are cleansing the countryside of its natives and getting paid to do it, and as the novel progresses we see the havoc that bloodlust wreaks on those who wallow in it.

And while the Kid comes to condemn the violence that blazes all around him, one could almost say his moral growth is secondary to the novel for it is the Judge, an enigmatic figure who delights in slaughter and pedophilia, who dominates the work. The Kid is described in the vaguest of terms but of the Judge we know more: he is “a great shambling mutant,” huge, bald and utterly hairless, who seems to be everywhere at once. He is scalper and artist, dancer and fiddler, and is still probably dancing and fiddling to this day for he never appears to age. Is he even human? It is too simplistic to say that he is the devil but like the devil, the Judge seems to have no precursor:

In that sleep and in sleep to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.

Such a passage is also an example of the greatness of McCarthy’s style, which is both sparse and dense at the same time. Because of his prose, meticulously researched background, and creation of the incomparable Judge, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is a masterpiece on several levels. If one can withstand the blazing sun of violence that burns at the novel's core there is much there to behold.

In a nutshell: Both grotesque and beautiful, Blood Meridian deserves its status as one of the most important works of American fiction. Read it before the 2009 movie release, which had better be good or else I'll choke a bitch. Not really but I will shake my fist in anger.

Bibliolatry Scale: 6 out of 6 stars


Literary Feline said...

Your review makes this book sound irresistable. Definitely one I need to look into before the movie release. I plan to read The Road later this year and it will be my first McCarthy novel. I'm really looking forward to.

Matt said...

So I am just over 50 pages into Blood Meridian and I am definitely enjoying it. Although "enjoying" doesn't quite seem like the correct word when I've just read about a massacre. I am in fact liking it more than I liked The Road and am already looking forward to reading more of his books like No Country for Old Men which will be released as a film in the near future.

And no commas in this comment.

Dewey said...

I just started The Road, and while I haven't yet noticed the commas thing, I have noticed that he loves to combine adjectives and nouns into compound nouns (cashregister) just like I do.

P.S. I love commas almost as much as semi-colons.

MyUtopia said...

Sounds good and bloody. I am going to get The Road soon.

reviewstew said...

wow I've been wanting to start a McCarthy, and I think you've convinced me where to start! got to get through the book I just started, and this will be next on my list.


Lesley said...

Alright, you got me. I'm gonna suck it up and read one of his books. Now if only I can manage to find a copy of The Road without one of those annoying O stickers ...

I do love my commas, though.

Bibliolatrist said...

I'm so glad people are interested in reading McCarthy...regardless of whether you like him or not, you won't walk away unmoved.

And those Oprah stickers are *so* annoying. I always make sure they are peelable before purchasing. In fact, any sticker that cannot be peeled easily and completely from a cover makes me want to scream.

John said...

Okay, okay, I'll admit it - The Road was a really, really tough read for me. Not the whole sounding out the words thing - I got that one figured out a few years ago. I'm actually scared to pick up another of his books. I might have to pick Blood Meridian up.

BTW, thanks for the Myspace Request - most of my stuff is on blogger, too.

Jason said...

Cormac McCarthy arrived for me via The Road early last month. After The Road I moved onto to Blood Meridian and after that I dove into All the Pretty Horses (page 30 now). His writing struck me much in the same way that Faulkner did ten years ago when I was 20. They open your eyes whether you want them opened or not and that in my humble experience is what defines good literature.

I cherished A Light in August and wrote a dissertation on it in school. It occurs to me that A Light in August coincides with Blood Meridian in its central theme on human nature and man’s inability to escape natures design. Was anyone else struck by the scene with the bear? Incredible, that after all the bloodshed and unspeakable violence, we find ourselves pitying this poor bear who - even though his urge to kill had been completely tamed - could not avoid his destiny in much the same way the other characters could not. This speaks directly to McCarthy’s understanding of violence and what becomes of men when they abandon what is ingrained in their selves. Which is their ending nothing more and nothing less. The judge is as much a symbol of manifest destiny as he is a (in)human character and I cannot add in this brief comment anything that has not been addressed already.

Being that I live in Naples with my fiancĂ©, who cringes at PG-13 movies, I don’t know anyone else who has read the novel and I find myself scouring the internet for something - anything - that might shed light on the things I've missed or perhaps not quite interpreted. Which led me here...just read it I guess is all I can add.

Bibliolatrist said...

John, The Road is scary because it's plausible. I find apocalyptic literature to be absolutely terrifying. Blood Meridian is different - I wouldn't worry about having the same experience with this one.

I plan to make my way through everything he wrote, but it will take me awhile. Jason, you've inspired me to start with A Light in August!

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

My copy of this book just arrived... So, we will see Biblio.

Cheers for this one, I usually trust you (one day i *will* get around to Nabokov)

JRH456 said...

I just finished and all I can seem to get out of my mouth when discussing the book is WOW it is an utterly amazing and beautifully written and haunting novel. i can not think of anything i would change and the Judge is the most amazingly well developed and deep characters in literature. WOW.

Sandra said...

Replying to Bibliolatrist's post above about apocalyptic literature: the lack of plant life and thus a renewable food source in a post-apocalyptic scenario is something that I hadn't considered before reading The Road, and that's what terrified me.

Jason - thanks for your insight on the bear scene. I felt pretty neutral about the book until that scene, which horrified me in its cruelty (yes, even more so than human cruelty inflicted upon other humans in the book) and the bear's response to it - even now, months later, I wish I could purge it from my memory. (I did get rid of the book for that reason as soon as I was done with it.) At least with your interpretation I can distance myself emotionally now when I consider it. (I'm not an animal rights activist or anything; that scene just really got to me.)

I'm going to give No Country for Old Men a try though.

Anonymous said...

It is an outstanding piece of literature, and I think it is better than all the great english books considered classics like The Great Gatsby or moby dick. But holy fuck its a book that demands a lot of focus and thinking, probably wouldnt be an easy transition if you are used to reading say, harry potter or matthew reily books or something. I would consider it as the best book I have ever read, The Road and No Country for Old Men will not be remembered, but this book will.