Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cormac McCarthy | Blood Meridian

It took me about four days to read past the following sentence: “Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves.” The sentence is located in the first paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. There is so much packed into that statement: the image of the darkest darkness, the threat of danger or violence, the dichotomy between outside and inside, all with McCarthy’s precise and impeccable diction. After I continued past the first paragraph, I found myself consumed by the novel’s carnage-obsessed journey through nightmare landscapes.

The story, based on accounts of the Glanton Gang, follows The Kid, a young man who joins a group of scalphunters in the West of the late 1800s. Judge Holden is Glanton’s right-hand beast: an albino, almost seven foot man, with not a hair on his body, who says all life on Earth exists without his permission until his classification. Much has been written about Holden’s spiritual kinship with Captain Ahab and Iago. Unlike those characters, Holden is indestructible. He appears to exist beyond human limitations in intellect and physical power. His ruthless, violent behavior doesn’t cause his demise. Instead, he flourishes at others’ expense and thrives with every casualty committed.

Holden sets the example for the rest of Glanton’s Gang. They roam the West like a band of ghosts, satiated only by blood. The novel is supremely violent and graphic, but it doesn’t cause revulsion because it is artfully written; terse, unapologetic, and lucid. The descriptions of events and locations, notably the Comanche warrior attack near the beginning of the novel, are visceral assaults on the senses. In Blood Meridian, McCarthy has created a classic of American literature, which chronicles the myths that propelled the nation forward while demystifying its history.

(Photo credit: James W. Minette)

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