Hey you guys! Welcome to Bookgum, Blood Meridian edition. I’ll be the first to present my book report to the class. Stay tuned the rest of this week for discussions led by Hotspur, Mans, and Dr. Girlfriend.
Can we all just say Whoa. No quotation marks. Like that? No said Shellbomber. What a book! So much to chew on: religious symbolism, style, humor, etc. Let’s start by addressing the 800 pound gorilla bear dancing in a tutu in the room. This novel is violent.
Violence isn’t exactly an underused story telling tool, but it’s rarely featured more graphically than a Saw movie. Unlike most works, Blood Meridian’s violence is as constant as it is casual. It’s not a plot device, it just kind of is. Cormac McCarthy warns against looking for a deeper meaning in a 1992 New York Times interview:
There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed, I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.
From the time “the kid” is “the baby,” he’s all too familiar with death. He wanders as a teen, eventually ending up with the Glanton Gang, a band of scalphunters hired by various Mexican governors to patrol for Apache Indians (I mean Native Americans) on the US/Mexico border. The mercenaries’ enemy, the “savages”, are initially depicted as just that. There’s this part about ripping out innards and post-mortem sodomy and then this other part about dead babies hanging from a tree that made me barf in my mouth. It’s quickly made clear that Glanton’s men as just gruesome. When they finally catch up with the Apaches they prove that they too have no problem with baby braining. This is the passage that would have made me quit this book if I hadn’t already agreed to write for Bookgum:
…one of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a blood spew and humans on fire came shrieking forth like berserkers and the riders hacked them down with their enormous knives…
Yeesh. Sorry you guys had to read that again. The intense imagery makes it all too easy to actually imagine. I know that’s the point, but still. Gross. And so it continues. The scalphunters’ blood thirst progresses until they kill everything that crosses their path, including those they were sworn to protect. Glanton and most of the gang are eventually killed at the Gila River by Yuma Indians (I mean Native Americans). A few escape, including the kid and Judge Holden. A villain can be a hero (Omar’s comin’!), but the kid doesn’t have hero in him. Is this who we are supposed to be rooting for? His role as protagonist only speaks to the low bar set by the others. He’s sometimes described as hesitant. Plus that one time he let that one guy starve and bleed out in the desert instead of shooting him. So, practically a prince. Judge Holden (hold your horses, we’ll discuss him later in the week) (heh, horses) makes for a more interesting antagonist, and by that I mean “embodiment of Satan.”
In the dramatic last scene, when the kid has become “the man” and encounters the judge in a Texas bar, after 330+ pages and 23 chapters of breathtaking gore, it comes to an ambiguous end. Huh? The judge kills the kid right? Maybe he raped him? Is that why he was naked? But wasn’t he always naked? What could have been so horrifying that made those hardened men revolted when they saw it? Not knowing if the totem dropped is THE POINT, but still. Good grief.
The bulk of Blood Meridian is loosely based on My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue, a memoir by actual Glanton Gang member Samuel Chamberlain detailing the scalphunting days of 1849-1850. John Joel Glanton and Judge Holden both appear in Chamberlain’s account, although the historical correctness has been disputed. Most people who know about these things and write about them on the internets think that the kid is McCormick’s stand in for Chamberlain. I didn’t know this until after I finished the book, and it kind of surprised me. I think I wanted to believe that such violent human nature was the product of some sicko’s imagination. Albeit, a sicko who can write eloquent prose.
It seems silly now to think of this story as story as pure fiction. Most events in Blood Meridian can be read about in their present day form in every newspaper, almost every day. Just kidding, no one reads newspapers anymore. But for real, we are all too familiar with the realities of war, even if we only hear about them heavily edited and from a safe distance. Sometimes real information gets out, whether it be through a lawsuit or a document leak, that can make the horror of Glanton’s gang seem too real. In 2007, Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based mercenary company hired by the US government to assist in the Iraq War, was sued on behalf of the families of murdered Iraq civilians, including a 9-year-old boy. The suit goes on to accuse the company of weapons smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, child prostitution, illegal drug use and destruction of evidence. They kidnapped children and made them give contractors oral sex for $1. ALLEGEDLY. Jesus H. Christ. They killed and tortured the people they were hired to protect. Sounds familiar. Just this past weekend Wikileaks wiki-leaked another 400,000 documents concerning the Iraq War. Spoiler alert: they weren’t full of good news. Iraqi soldiers, under American leadership, cut off detainees’ fingers and burned them with acid. This comes just a few years after we learned of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison. Oh yes, and there are five American soldiers being tried for murdering Afghan civilians. I’ll guess their names are Glanton, Holden, Kid, Toadvine, and Brown.
- This book took me almost three weeks to read. Anyone else have a hard time getting through it? (I wanted to be involved with Bookgum because I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Memoir, science, and self-help have always been more my speed. I should have waded in with a Twilight book or two.)
- It seems strange that as much as the violence bothered my delicate lady sensibilities in the first half of the book, I barely noticed it in the second half. Did that happen to anyone else? Maybe this is just another example of becoming numb to something terrible after constant exposure (on a very small scale.)
- Any alternate interpretations of the ending outhouse scene?
- Were there any parts of the author’s style that were particularly annoying to you? My picks: the chapter opening “spoiler alerts” and the untranslated Spanish.
- Remember that mid-90s Sharon Stone western The Quick and the Dead? Leonardo DiCaprio played a character called Kid. Who should play the kid in the upcoming movie adaption of Blood Meridian?
Shellbomber didn’t major in English, no duh.
- Tomorrow, HOTSPUR IS gonna blow ARE COLLECTIVE minds with a discussion of the origin and ROLE OF mythology and RELIGION AND HOW that applies to BLOOD MERIDIAN.
- THEN on Wednesday, Mans argues that Blood Meridian IS A COMIC novel.
- Thursday WE HAVE Dr. Girlfriend STEPPING up and discussing THE ROLE of the author IN Blood Meridian, in the LARGER LITERARY world, and HOW CORMAC MCCARTHY does or does not “LIVE UP” TO this role.
- Finally, ON FRIDAY, I’ll (this is AN AMERICAN PATRIOT now, by the WAY) wrap THINGS up with SOME FINAL thoughts and AN OPEN forum FOR FURTHER discussion SO BE SURE to keep F5ING.
Also, BE SURE TO give a round OF APPLAUSE for all THE GREAT writers!