Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

It's summer break students, so pick up a book for pleasure. Not the silly books your teachers assign that are lame and boring. Read "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy. The best fiction book I have read crafted in the last 50 or 75 years. I'll have to reread it to absorb more, but it could displace Michel Houellebecq's novels Platform + The Elementary Particles as my two favorite books. This book is fantastic. The subject matter is top notch and American to the bone while the words are absolutely beautiful. I'd call them eerily engaging in they are disgusting for their subject matter but spellbinding.

"Blood Meridian" is an old Western novel set in the late 1840s West with a small section set in int eh late 1870s at the end. This Western skewers the glorification of the "Wild West" that has been spread in American fiction for the last 120 years, but it shows that portion of American history at its truest. This is a nihilistic book that is filled with death, gore, cruel people, uncaring people, and sick screw ups on almost every page. In the first 50 pages, I think there is a reference to death, sickness or misery on each page. It will almost bowl you over, but you must read on as it becomes a fantastic book. Everyone is a killer, everyone a cheat, everyone a thief, and no one is purely good or evil. There is no romantic 'noble savage' Indian figure. They are just as sick as the Mexicans or Americans that kill. There are shoot outs, near deaths, arrows pulled out of bodies, dilapidated stone churches, and everything you normally find in a Western. There is no white knight. There is no good guy to save the day. There is just a collection of misfits from the US Army irregulars to the little hermits in random shacks grabbing for whatever they can while alive.

The language McCarthy uses is wonderful in how he presents the characters, the setting the situation and the basic night sky. He does not describe a sunset, a desert vista, a shrub or anything the same way twice. One might think the West is just a desert that is boring. Not to McCarthy. it is alive, untamed, wild, and it feels almost like an alien no man's land, claiming lives at will. There are scenes that evoke memories of the Bible, old Westerns, Crusades tales, Greek classics, and everything in between. One of my favorite scenes involves the 'kid' seeing a bunch of pilgrims making their way west. He comes across them dead in the middle of nowhere. He then sees an old woman sitting in an opening in the rocks. he pleads with her to come down and he will protect her. In the end, he finds she's been dead for years and is almost petrified. One powerful scene of many in this book.

At one point, I thought the 'kid' might have died with the irregulars in the Army unit and be living in the West in a limbo state, but the more I think of it, that doesn't feel right. The book is a meandering journey that has an end that may leave you feeling odd, but I didn't let it bother me. It would be foolish to not comment on 'the Judge". Judge Holden is one of the greatest characters I have ever read in a novel. He is psychotic, evil, given to moments of kindness, smart, well spoken, and strange. Is he a phantom come to life? Is he the Devil? Is he just a tough hombre who never ages?

I'd view him as the earthly incarnation of the Devil who is allowed to live in the West as it is a lawless undefined territory at the time. As if the Devil can only come up at certain points in time in certain areas because they are when man is closest to his animal instinctual nature. The Judge causes everyone to doubt religion, is suave and smooth, and has peculiar tastes. the Judge also has a sly statement where he says that he has dominion over everything, but he jots things down in his book when he sees something he didn't know. I'd view that as the Devil never having been out West yet, so now he's learning new things on God's creation. From a Christian POV, God created Earth and rules in Heaven while Satan rules on Earth. The Devil has never had a chance to go out West as the kind of evil, sick games that were being played out in the 1840s-1870s out West had not started until then. He is a sick mind, but a hell of an entertaining character. This book is a hell of an entertaining book. Read it.

3 comments:

AugustusPugin said...

The single most 'K-type' book ever written. Biblical, grandiose, Miltonic and grotesque. The desolate Darwinian unforgiving brutality of the Blood Meridian world described something unlike anything else I've read, the closest coming to it being that passage from Joseph de Maistre's St. Petersburg Dialogues about the universal law of the slaughter of the world, 'from maggots up to man' about how the world is "naught but an endless altar, steeped in blood, upon which everything must be sacrificed without end, without pause until the consummation of all things, until evil is extinct, until the death of death. "

I would absolutely love to find any other works that play into this esoteric and completely authoritarian hostile/indifferent vibe. It seems the perfect antidote to Universalist political culture of policing transgressions. What are microaggressions and human rights worth to a man like Holden? It's comical even considering it.

Anonymous said...

gnons are the bears that dance and the bears that don't

Handle said...

No review of Blood Meridian complete without Leo Daugherty's essay, "Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy".