Monday, June 4, 2012

On Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

I just got back from the nearby café to spend the afternoon. I finished Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. I did not feel happy afterwards.

Not that the book is badly written—far from it. This may well be the best novel I will probably read this year. It's just that the world McCarthy has painted is so dark, depressing, and hopeless that any reader will end up with their spirits dampened somehow.

The protagonist is nameless, referred to only as "the kid" from Tennessee. His mother dies in childbirth. At 14 years old he leaves home, and he never returns again.

He joins a gang of scalp hunters. Together they ride to Mexico. The road is perilous. The journey is deadly, with Apache Indians ready to attack them anytime. The scenes are brutal and merciless.
How these things end. In confusion and curses and blood. They drank on and the wind blew in the streets and the stars that had been overhead lay low in the west and these young men fell afoul of others and words were said that could not be put right again and in the dawn the kid and the second corporal knelt over the boy from Missouri who had been named Earl and they spoke his name but he never spoke back. He lay on his side in the dust of the courtyard. The men were gone, the whores were gone. An old man swept the clay floor within the cantina. The boy lay with his skull broken in a pool of blood, none knew by whom.
After reaching Chihuahua City the gang starts killing helpless women and children, Mexicans and Indians alike, for no logical reason. We picture mules and men being shot, their brains spewing out, blood gushing through. Death and violence permeate the story. We read of unrestrained brutality. There is no sympathy and no friendship.  McCarthy doesn't describe how the kid feels, but we see him so alone in the world.

Even the landscape is dark. The author details his descriptions of the surroundings. Geography comprises a significant part of this work—the wide expanse of never-ending desert, rocky crags, strong winds. There is lightning and hard rain. The sun is harsh, unyielding.

Up to the end there is no flicker of joy, no sense of deliverance. McCarthy doesn't give us a happy ending similar to The Road's. (I heard of readers being haunted by the story even in their dreams.)

In this work McCarthy demonstrates his incredible gift of writing. Blood Meridian isn't an easy book to read. The author doesn't use quotation marks or apostrophes. He doesn't give English translation of conversations in Spanish. Many words were new to me, a lot of them archaic.

What kept me going was the story, figuring out what happens to the kid, even to the hairless, almost superhuman judge (one of my favorite characters) who tries to kill him. I suppose any reader will take the kid's side and cheer him on, even if all encouragement is futile.

But there is deliverance. It lies in finishing the book. Suddenly the world we live in—this present world—looks so much better in comparison to the wasteland McCarthy has shown us.

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