Thursday, July 21, 2011

#39 - "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy

In honor of the Calgary Stampede, I thought I'd read the closest thing to a Western on The List, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.  I suppose both involve horses, but really the similarities end there.  While the Stampede may have it's downsides, they don't usually involve scalping, bludgeoning or beheadings.

Set mostly around 1849, near the Mexican-American border, the book tells the story of a roving band of mercenary scalp hunters, who under the guise of protecting the locals from the dangerous Apache, reek havoc and chaos on the area.  The group, known as the Glanton Gang, roam the countryside travelling from town to town.  While at first they only hunt down their designated enemies, their thirst for blood and more importantly their lack of guilt or apprehension toward spilling it, leads them to expand their scalp hunting to include almost every living being they encounter.

As can be judged from the plot, Blood Meridian takes the cake as the most violent read from The List so far.  While the body count must be in the thousands, it is the graphic description of the violence that really stands out.  Instead of merely describing a beheading, McCarthy will describe blood shooting out of a headless neck like a fountain, before it trickles between the floor boards and into the hellish river that flowed nearby.  He describes the sounds and the smells and the tastes of so many killings, it almost desensitizes the reader by the end.  While I don't have a problem with violence, in that it doesn't offend me, I just found it to be a little much in Blood Meridian.  While the violence may be integral to the plot, often the long, drawn out descriptions were not.  Instead of being descriptive, I often only found them to be a little dull.

I think it was this language or style that lost be in the end.  I found this to be one of the harder reads I have had recently.  McCarthy uses an almost biblical-style of language, that would seem more fitting in a 19th century novel be Dickens or Melville.  While I couldn't deny it is a well written book, I found the language to be an obstacle instead of an invitation, to really get into the story.  Not only does it not seem to really fit the setting or the story, it also tends to lose my interest.  For whatever reason, I find this type of prose quite tedious.  And also for no real reason, I found it very frustrating reading dialogue, as McCarthy has decided to eschew quotation marks.  It didn't make it confusing or anything like that, but it bothered me.

But besides the style, I also never became enamoured with the characters.  Much of the book centers on a man known only as "The Kid", who joins up with the Glanton gang after is army troop is slaughtered by some Apaches.  We learn very little of the Kid's background, and thus very little of his motivations.  While he could be described as the protagonist I suppose, I never really had any interest in him or his fate.  He really never seemed integral to the story and could have been replaced by any number of characters throughout book.

If there were to be an antagonist, which is difficult, because almost every character in the novel could be considered one, it would by Judge Holden, known simply as the Judge.  The Judge seems to be a rather well-educated man, knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects, who also happens to be a cold-blooded killer, a child rapist and basically devoid of any morals.  As the leader of the Glanton Gang, the Judge often takes on an almost god-like persona, seemingly indestructible and infallible.  While many have described him as one of the best fictional characters in recent memory, with Harold Bloom even describing him as 'the most frightening figure on all of American literature,' I found him to be too much of an enigma to really enjoy reading.  Like The Kid, there just didn't seem to be enough there for me to get into these characters, and as a result, I never really got into this book.

You can hear me discussing Blood Meridian on the CBC Eyeopener, here.

For my next book I'll be reading Appointment in Samarra which is yet another book I know nothing about.

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