My first Cormac McCarthy book was The Road which was an exceptional story about a father and son seeking safety in a dystopian America. I literally couldn't put it down, as the old book review goes. Those who have seen the movie were probably underwhelmed - one more example of the book being so much better than the film. I jumped into the McCarthy water again with Blood Meridian or the evening redness in the west. (yup, Pardner, that's the title.
This time, in Blood Meridian, I must confess, I am of two minds. I don't know if I hated it or loved it. But before I get to that let me explain a bit about McCarthy's style of writing. It's not for everyone, and I'm not yet sure it's mine, either. He writes with minimal punctuation. No quotation marks so you never know for sure what is being actually said or thought. It can make linear thought a bit touchy at times. Frankly, I prefer to use the tools linguists have provided. You get used to it after 100 pages but till then it looks like a kind of eccentric novelty. I remember in junior high we had to read poet w.h. auden who wrote his name like that and who also spurned certain keys on the typewriter. I hated it then, and guess I still do.
I'm not sure if there is anything like prose poetry or poetic prose, but if there is McCarthy is surely at the head of the parade. Even with his limitations on punctuation his writing is some of the most beautiful stuff I've ever read. Almost hypnotic - and full of descriptive nuance you want to read over and over. Damn, such beautiful words. Warning: he also uses the vernacular of the day. I had a dictionary at my side.
"It is this false moneyer with his gravers and burins who seeks favor with the judge and he is at contriving from cold slag brute in the crucible a face that will pass, an image that will render this residual specie current in the markets where men barter. Of this is the judge judge and the night will not end."
The story itself concerns a guy, called throughout the book as the kid, who joins a rag-tag group of mercenary vigilantes who are hired by some locals to help clean up the territory along the Texas-Mexican border in the mid-1800's. And by cleaning up, I mean anything that moves. Animals, Indians, Mexicans, pioneers, settlers, old women, children, you name it. They always scalp what they kill or cut off their ears as proof to those who hired them of their success and they get paid according to how many they bring back. They wear them as necklaces, around their horses necks so the word Blood in the title is more than simple literary imagery.
They are led by a man called judge. This man of letters, brilliant in almost every way, is equally evil. He speaks with passion about philosophy, mankind, and the travails of the human condition. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately most of the book is killing porn; detailed descriptions on the killing, the dying, the documenting and the excess of a simple job into slaughter. Think the Magnificent Seven then turning on their small town that hired them, killing everyone, their livestock and pet dogs, and then heading out to do the same to all the neighboring villages. In detail.
Only in the last scene do we begin to understand that it is all allegory: what has really been going on appears to be Good vs. Evil, with Evil the victor. Man is by nature evil and evil will win out.
I went into more detail with this book than other reviews because my first thought is to dissuade you from forking over the $13 from Amazon or the $2.50 on EBay to purchase this thing. It is, at its core, a despicable story of inhumanity, suffering and madness. Of craven and wanton mayhem. Blood, blood, blood.
On the other hand, if you get it let me know what you think. Its positively brilliant. Every word is perfect, every oration worth its weight in gold. It is a poetry of thought if not action. It is Goodness and Bad, the battle we all fight within ourselves and others. I have never read anything like it.
Don't read it.
Next up: A Gentleman From Moscow by Amor Towles