Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: Blood Meridian

"... Their mouths were dry. The desert upon which they were entrained was desert absolute and it was devoid of feature altogether and there was nothing to mark their progress upon it. The earth fell away on every side equally in its arcature and by these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus..."

There are few novels that have  left me in the state of ponderous admiration as has Cormac McCarthy's 1985 work, Blood Meridian. Set in the 1840's of a desolate and depraved western United States, McCarthy's novel  chronicles the journey of a young man known only as 'The Kid' as he flees his home at the age of 14, blowing through Tennessee to Louisiana and then to Texas like some anxious and whiskey laden tumbleweed. When the kid lands himself within the company of the brutal Apache scalp hunting Glanton gang, Blood Meridian takes us even further across America on a journey of derangement and isolation, of horrific violence and savagery, leading across the blue mountains and empty wastes of a land that is only known to me as the Old West.
    At once, the book is shocking in its depictions of the cruelty and lawlessness of the undeveloped frontier lands of our country, much to the point that it could be difficult for some readers to move past. The Kid watches with a remote eye as he takes part in the butchering of the natives that he's been contracted to hunt and kill, and I developed an impression that though he was used to the ferocity, he would neither condemn nor condone its performance. These questions of morality are badgered into further examination by the most prominent member of Glanton's gang,  Holden, or "The Judge" - a swollen and hairless behemoth of a man with a terrifying capacity for existential observation of the carnage about them. About the detached nature of The Kid, the sociopathic Glanton, and the collected but equally murderous Judge, these questions churn, and it is through the repeated and urgent attention to this whirl-wind  that the novel moves forward and eventually into despair and death as Glanton's band is dismantled by defection, murder, and massacre.
    To read Blood Meridian is an exercise in adaptability - McCarthy's prose is immediately provocative, but also somewhat complex in its peculiar lack of traditional punctuation and sentence structure, which may lead the reader to re-examine or re-interpret the cadence of some passages. Still, within McCarthy's style can be found the remnants of something far more romantic, ancient even; a story-telling voice that conjures the feelings of elegant but barbarous antiquity.
    Blood Meridian's themes have been the subject of much scholarly study, and its graphic nature has suffered similar scrutiny. The  ambiguous nature of the protagonist's fate has left quite a bit up to speculation, and it too has been the point of study. Personally, I feel that the  violence is essential to these themes,  and I believe that it's taking place within the expanse of the frontier is symbolic of every man's heart and mind - places that can at times seem devoid of reason or familiarity, full of the hostile, unknown or arcane - each of which space is an infinity given over to finding either some sense of meaning and equanimity within its vastness or perishing at one end or the other of a constant pursuit, all alone and naked within the senseless waste. I do sense that the author fully intended for the reader to determine the outcome for The Kid by novel's end, though I found our final glimpse of the Judge to be far more thought provoking.
    I thoroughly enjoyed Blood Meridian, both as a work of outstanding literature, and for the irreplaceable senses it provided - of being a part of something grand, something enigmatic and forbidden - of some kind of exploratory dream from whose outlandish horror and fascination I wasn't certain that I wanted to wake from.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Gift of 'American Gods'

 'American Gods' stands tall in its sexy leather bound majesty.

I received over the weekend, much to my delight, a most wonderful birthday gift - a leather bound edition of Neil Gaiman's American Gods! Who else but my loving fiance, Melody, could have procured such glorious thing?
    American Gods has been on my "to read" list for so long that I'm ashamed to disclose the full depth of my procrastination, and it's a wonder. Mr. Gaiman has done nothing but astonish since I first peeked into 'Preludes and Nocturnes' -  Sandman is a series that moved me entirely, and I hadn't had nearly as much fun with a novel as I did with The Graveyard Book. Fortunately for me, with the mass of rabid Neil Gaiman fans that I may sometimes call friends, I've managed to avoid the giving away of American Gods
    How, pray tell? I will never know. Clearly I was meant to read this book unspoiled...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review: Life of Pi

*painting by Tomer Hanuka*
Did you know that the term 'Robinsonade'  was coined to describe a work of fiction similar to Daniel Defoe's  1719 English novel, Robinson Crusoe?
    I didn't.
     Come to think of it, I never would have had I not completed Yann Martel's imaginative novel, Life of Pi, the story a young Indian boy name Pi Patel. When Pi's family decides to sell their zoo in Pondicherry, India and emigrate to Canada, Pi is thrilled by the wealth of possibility for new experiences and adventure. Though Pi is a devout Hindu (and  an equal adherent  to Christianity and Islam), no faith prevents the tragedy of his family's ship sinking to the bottom of the Pacific as it chugs towards Canada, pulling into the ocean with it Pi's family, their remaining animals, and everything he knew of his Indian home. Now, castaway in a lifeboat, his only companion a starving and malaised Bengal tiger, Pi must rely not only on the visceral instincts of survival, but also his unwavering faith in God.
    Stranded in a circumference of  horizon, Pi is subject to a world that he'd never imagined - from applying  the knowledge absorbed from an upbringing around wild animals, to renouncing his strict vegetarian diet to feast upon the blood, brains and bellies of sea turtles and fish - a world that only expands as his life seems so hopelessly condensed. Contrary to what I would feel under the weight of such hopelessness, Pi  reflects upon the rishi Markandeya, who "fell out of Vishnu's mouth while Vishnu was sleeping and so beheld the entire universe, everything that there is." Though Pi may have been abandoned by the world of men, he never felt abandoned by its God. Here, it is interesting to note that the Japanese cargo ship on which Pi had been traveling is named Tzimzum, which, as I understand, is a Hebrew term used in Qabalistic texts to describe the method by which God's power begins its creative descent  to the material world.
    Initially, one would think that 319 pages were far too many to describe the 227 days survived at sea by one boy and a Bengal tiger - perhaps even 318 too many. However, it was my delight to find that Mr. Martel did not waste one word in excess, each sentence flowing with a near poetry to match the myriad hue of a life lived at sea, and the prism color of faith, misery, hope, and exaltation. Life of Pi has been the first book in some time that I've actually tried to finish in one sitting, if only because I couldn't bear to put it down.
    Would I consider Life of Pi to be Robinsonade in its telling? Both Crusoe and Pi are castaways, but I think that its fair to end the comparison there. While the former exists as an allegorical representation of European conquest and was eventually led to God, Pi's faith in The Lord of The Universe was ever-present. Part of me believes that it was his sincere desire to know God that delivered him into the swell of the ocean's benevolent hostility, and though he did not initially comprehend why, the time to look closely -  at himself, the world, and our relationship to all life within it.
    Life of Pi gave me something more than I've gotten out of many books of late, apart from an ending that not only satisfied, but left me with further questions. Pi Patel gave me a reason to continue having faith, and to search for those answers - to know that all things, no matter how insignificantly small or incomprehensibly vast - are intricately woven together with equal love within the mind of God.