Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Book Review: Blood Meridian
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.