This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
I read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses early last year and loved it (LOVED it!), so before reading anything about Blood Meridian, I was looking forward to jumping in, as it has been described (at least on the cover of my copy) as McCarthy’s masterpiece. But I must admit, this one was a doozy. I should have remembered from film adaptations of some of McCarthy’s other novels that there is often a ruthless, unforgiving side to his characters; a side that makes it difficult to define whether or not there are any protagonists at all. Blood Meridian was that kind of story: I could only read a handful of pages at a time, and with each segment I kept hoping for redemptive qualities to emerge, but when the main characters are a merciless group of scalp hunters searching for their next payday, it’s difficult to find redemption. Adding insult to injury is their habit of destroying through drunken revelry the very town that welcomed them as heroes, or cheating the very folks who reached out a helping hand.
So much of what I loved about All the Pretty Horses was absent or veiled in Meridian, and I think I held it against McCarthy through the whole novel. Yes, there were examples of McCarthy’s descriptive genius, but because those vivid descriptions so accurately depicted the carnage of a massacre, it wasn’t something I wanted to (or even could) imagine for long. And there were complicated characters, which I think is necessary for any great work, but it was almost impossible to be sympathetic towards the characters in Blood Meridian because they were so unsympathetic toward everyone and everything else. I’d already finished the book last week when one of my facebook friends commented: “Blood Meridian? Brace yourself . . . It’s so violent it makes Tarantino look tame.” It’s a perfect description, so I’d leave that as a warning to anyone looking to start it.
In the midst of all the bloodshed and depravity, though, I did find myself pulled into some of the embedded stories told among the group members around the campfire, and I was bewitched (in the way I was when reading All the Pretty Horses) by the haunting images of desert wanderings, and the ending gave me a literal shiver down my back, as the best scary stories do. Overall, though, there was just too much carnage to make those moments of transportation seem worth it. For me, the bottom line is if you really want to read McCarthy, I’d recommend ATPH over Blood Meridian any day.
As for whether Blood Meridian should have been picked for Arizona on the 50Nifty list, I’m not quite on that bandwagon. The story takes place all over the southwest, and while what is today Arizona is part of that, it encompasses so much more than that area. Unlike Into the Wild, which I argued was a great fit for Alaska despite its cross-country setting, Arizona didn’t seem as specific a part of the Blood Meridian story as Alaska was of Into the Wild. It’s easy to be critical, though, especially when I don’t have another alternative to suggest. I wonder what long-time residents of AZ would say, or how they’d feel about Blood Meridian being selected as Arizona’s book. Anyone out there from Arizona want to weigh in?
Finally, I do want to record one of my other thoughts after reading this book. The brutality depicted so blatantly in Blood Meridian, while very difficult to read about continually and imagine being part of history, was also a reminder of the unspeakable things are still happening all over the world right now (Nigeria, for example). These senseless acts of violence are horrifying, and it is personally convicting when I think of how easy it is for me to just put the novel aside, turn off the TV, or close my laptop. So my hope for this week is to keep the suffering closer to my heart and mind this week, and may you do the same.