Tuesday, May 20, 2014

not your average western novel

book review: Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy

"War is god." - the judge

I know there are a multitude of analyses written about Blood Meridian. I can see why. It's an arresting narrative. This book reminds me why reading is so compelling. Even more so, when I did some initial research to discover that the Glanton Gang was real. I couldn't put it down. I literally read it my entire waking hours until it was done. Then I read it again.

I haven't read any of the reviews and thoughtful opinions of professional literature fellows. These are just my digestions after being spellbound by this book for 5 days. I'll read about the book later.

First, I love a book with ample vocabulary that I have to go look up. I won't even count the Spanish words. These are just the a few of the ones my kindle dictionary gave up on.

spent - bungstarter - weskit - duledge - trapdykes - slatribbed - agoggle - ratchel - squailed - damnata - malandered - clackdish - pritchel - garrafa - ossature - malabarista - surbated - apishamore - gastine - thrapple - mansuete - arcature - pampooties

The main theme is obvious, but since it's one of the most unanswerable questions humans have, it is still enthralling. Are we destined to die in a certain way or do we have free will and choices? And if we are controlled by destiny, why bother living? Or letting others live...

Yes, this story is gruesome. Yet, I understand why a killer (or tribe of killers) would mutilate a corpse. It is simple communication. "I am so badass that this is what will happen to you if I catch you. Be afraid." And I understand how hard it was to value human life in that time/culture. Death was always just around the corner. The part that made me cry, though, was the story of the buffalo hunt. The wanton killing of the herds of buffalo made me just want to puke.

The second theme is man against nature, or more correctly, nature against man. The imagery that McCarthy spins describing the desolation and beauty of the unforgiving landscape is why I had to read it a second time. Those mountains, deserts, patchy shrubs and open skies drew me in like I just needed to touch them.

The third, unspoken theme for me was the presence/absence of women. This is a man's book. Women appear as caricatures: whores, servants, and in one case, a mother/nurturer, but it's about men. Men who have no compassion (unless you call bashing in the head of your wounded comrade compassion, which I guess it is). Men who have no sense of responsibility. They are not saving for the future, they are not raising children, they are not planning better lives for themselves, they are not building anything or gardening, they are not creating community, they are not caring for each other, they are not loving. Is this what men who live without the presence of women devolve to? Or am I just making my own set of stereotypes?

It's an amazing book to read, in any case. It's visceral. It's hard to let go. It's a part of our shared cultural history that we would rather not hear about.