Day 77-- Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy rarely gives interviews to begin with; he's never done any for this book. From what I hear, he wants readers to draw conclusions on their own. I applaud that. I also wish, however, that I wasn't so frustrated by that.

But that might make this book one I'll pick up in a few years and see what I can pull from it. Blood Meridian (or, the Evening Redness in the West) is definitely a book that I CANNOT recommend with ease. I think this is the first book that I've read that I can say that about with seriousness. I used to think that way about many of James Ellroy's novels, but his debauched scenarios play out like an after-school TV special compared to this. As disturbing at the book was, though, I liked it. Well, nix that--I didn't like it, because it's a book that one can't really enjoy. I appreciated it, perhaps, and it left a photorealistic image etched in the back of my mind that I won't shake for decades.

The book follows a nameless protagonist, referred to as "the kid" throughout the book, as he leaves home and eventually joins a band of scalphunters on the Mexico-American border during the 1850s. This isn't a revisionist western, really--it's more of a "dark history," using a few real characters and painting a harsh, unforgiving view of a band of mercenaries that slowly lose control. The book is brutal, make no mistake. I had to set it aside on more than one occasion. Interesting, McCarthy's knack with language never lays it out entirely, and much of the violence is covered with a veil of words.

The main antagonist is an enigmatic member of the scalphunters named Judge Holden, a towering renaissance man that dances and fiddles with aplomb, talks astrology and alchemy, and...murders women and children, friend and foe. One of the most unnerving aspects is how he is constantly sketching things he finds--leaves, vistas, animals--because he can't stand them existing without his knowing. He seems not quite human in the book, which I think is intentional. He's the most vile character I've seen in literature, and because of him alone many folks consider this book a "horror" novel.

McCarthy is probably the best living American writer (I'm not saying that as hyperbole), a fusion of Faulknerian wording with Melville's stylism. He loaded Blood Meridian with allusions and metaphor, so much that I missed much of the thematic qualities out of sheer ignorance. There are many Gnostic references--the judge and his thirst for knowledge especially--as there is a constant, looming suggestion that mankind doesn't just sometimes fall headfirst into despicable violence, but lurches for it and thirsts for it.

The book's ending is non-traditional and horrifying, a dance of prose that is as frightening as it is beautiful, but the epilogue suggests--ever so slightly--hope. Hope and change. Maybe McCarthy could've been more obvious with it. And in knowing that, I can't tell my friends "you should read this." But as depressing and harrowing as it was, I got something out of it.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 11/21/2006 11:37:00 PM,


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