Thursday, August 09, 2012

Blood Meridian (by Cormac McCarthy)

This novel was difficult for me to read. Not because of the unrelenting and grotesque violence (which there is plenty of, described in the most dispassionate manner possible), but because of descriptions of scenery. Oh, descriptions of scenery. 

I've talked about this before, but a few years ago I realized that whenever I zone out on what I'm reading, it is inevitably on a description of scenery. Descriptions of people, of emotional states, of action, I'm fine with. But for some reason, it's difficult for me to concentrate through descriptions of scenery. And this book is like *evocative and poetic description of bleak scenery* *dispassionate recounting of savage violence* *more scenery described at length* *maybe someone says a sentence or does something* *but then there is more scenery again*

This might sound like I'm faulting the book, but in fact, the descriptions are great. They are so cinematic. I couldn't stop thinking about the Coen brothers' version of No Country for Old Men. I have not read the book, but the movie landscape really stuck with me as a visual memory. This has a similar type of feeling, a bleak and harsh landscape so evocatively described that you can see it in front of you with a terrible beauty.

The Road is similarly bleak, but it isn't all about the scenery and the violence, since it also has characters you can really feel for. The closest thing Blood Meridian has to a protagonist is introduced as a cruel and amoral killer with a thirst for violence. It's only relative to another character who is even more cruel and even more amoral that he becomes at all sympathetic, and even then, it all happens in the last few chapters.

Plotwise, Blood Meridian explores the historical account of bloody and lawless warfare on the U.S./Mexico border, including the slaughter of native Americans and the slaughter of buffalo, but generally encompassing the slaughter of just about everyone. It's been compared to Moby-Dick and I agree that it says something uniquely American about how these characters view the world and the landscape. They see it as theirs to shape and theirs for the taking, except that nature (both the natural world and the baser instincts of human nature) can be overwhelming and pull them down.

I liked this snippet from Wikipedia: "A major theme is the warlike nature of man. Critic Harold Bloom praised Blood Meridian as one of the best 20th century American novels... but admitted that he found the book's pervasive violence so distasteful that he had several false starts before reading the book entirely." Distasteful is a good word. In addition to the violence against men, women, children, and animals, the characters refer to an "idiot" who is kept in a cage as "it" and they throw the n-word around a lot. I know it's appropriate to the characters, but I find it even more distasteful than the violence, personally. So, you know, to sum up, it isn't exactly a fun read. But it certainly packs a punch.

It's a mystery. A man's at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.



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