[Warning: this is not one of my typically upbeat posts. Some of the quoted material from this book might even give offense to my gentler readers]
So my friend RyanH suggested that I read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. We were talking about my fondness for HBO’s Deadwood (an awful-ly violent show, but wickedly well-written) and my penchant for all things 19th-century and West-ish. As I was looking for some good reading material over the holiday break, I picked up a copy of BM from the library and started reading.
This book is not for the faint at heart. McCarthy’s writing is cruelly compelling. Nearly every sentence is savage. Plowing through this text was sadistic and nightmarish. I put it down several times, realizing that it was just TOO intense. An example of the way gore oozes from every page:
They rode on and the sun in the east flushed pale streaks of light and then a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise and where the earth drained up into the sky at the edge of creation the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great phallus until it cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing and malevolent behind them. The shadows of the smallest stones lay like pencil lines across the sand and the shapes of the men and their mounts advanced elongate before them like strands of the night from which they’d ridden, like tentacles to bind them to the darkness yet to come. (44-45)
So what to make of this book? The setting is the Southwest around 1850, when bounties were awarded for killing Indians. The story follows a group of ragtag men who go on a scalping mission, traveling throughout the dismal borderlands region in search of victims. The plotline is a loosely connected series of encounters between the bounty hunters and various groups of renegades and natives.
This is definitely a man’s tale; women are rarely mentioned or are figured as props, as with this woman:
In the square two of the Delawares and the outrider Webster were squatting in the dust with a weathered old woman the color of pipeclay. Dry old crone, half naked, her paps like wrinkled aubergines from under the shawl she wore. (97).
All in all, I’m not sure of the value of this text. There is no joy, no redemption, no catharsis. Just the weary weight of so much suffering.