Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel is simply astonishing. Set in the Mexican-American war around 1849 (& based on a historical incident), it's one of the most violent books I've ever read. A paramilitary band of Americans butchers their way across the American Southwest, paid by the scalp. The main character's the Kid, who's subtly set apart from the rest by a twinge of mercy. The antagonist, the Judge, is an incredible creation: a deeply troubling engine of chaos who gets all the best speeches in the book. It's worth reading just to see this character who stinks of brimstone.

McCarthy takes a lot from Moby Dick: the doomed team on an unholy mission; non-psychological characterization; realism based in the quotidian details of a bygone era; a godless, fatal Nature. The commodious vocab includes specialty words on breech-loading guns & horse riding, but it goes much further too. McCarthy is also heavily influenced by Billy Shakes, Milton, King James as well. The style is wonderful -- tho' not good for subway reading -- with sentences so long & labyrinthine that they need to be read twice.

Okay, so Blood Meridian is terribly dark & even horrifying. It's apocalyptic & vaguely medieval, like a painting by Bosch. It's hard to get through. Its unrelenting pessimism ends on an equivocal note. But despite the noble antecedents mentioned above, it's a unique American novel. McCarthy sustains a level of artistic excellence that kept me reading for weeks. I'm looking forward to reading it again someday.

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