Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review, McCarthy's Blood Meridian


I’ve given up on finishing a western novel by Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, which the New York Times has named as one of the most important works in American fiction. What I’ve learned from this book is that you can produce a successful novel without having a strong character, coherent plot, or consistent point of view. At the same time, I can see why some critics pay homage to it.

Blood Meridian is the effort of a brilliant mind. The writing displays not only an exceptional command of language, but a unique ability to conceptualize greater truths. McCarthy’s descriptions allow you to see the commonplace in ways you’ve never considered before. Given that, you have to wonder what the rampant violence means.

As far as characters go, the story has no heroes, just villains. I’ve only made it to the half-way point, and from this vantage, the “kid” seems to be the narrator, but at times the story plays more to other characters. I can’t tell you what the kid looks like nor what motivates him nor even what he thinks of the other characters, all of whom commit astonishing acts of violence. He doesn’t have a character trait that I can describe other than a proclivity for violence.

Events that arise while the kid sallies forth, mostly in the desert, provide the plot, such as it is. He joins a gang of scalp hunters who go from one murder to another. What serves for tension, if you can call it that, is the inducement of another random slaughter. However, the blood and gore is so ubiquitous the tension is drifting into the mundane.

There are unacknowledged shifts in point of view as various other characters take center stage. In some instances, the kid becomes so peripheral you have to wonder if he’s in the scene at all. If McCarthy distanced himself a few steps more from the story, it would be omniscient. 

Considering McCarthy erudition, it’s disappointing to see anachronisms. The book takes place in the 1830s but we find references to steel, wire, electric kite, and matches. His vocabulary, which is shot through with Spanish, occasionally sends me to the dictionary, which, as it turns out, is also confused and doesn’t come up with definitions. My guess is that some of the words are too archaic for contemporary lexicons. On the other hand, maybe McCarthy is winking at us. Whether or not words like awap, halms, squailed, clackdish, sallygate, or scrabbly are actual English words, they resonate in the context McCarthy has given them.

It’s been reported that Hollywood is interested in a film adaptation of Blood Meridian. I can only say that I won’t be seeing it. 

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