Two books down. My choice for the second book of my 50 Book Pledge was Cormac McCarthy’s seminal Blood Meridian. Given how much I loved the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men, and how great McCarthy’s novel The Road was, my excitement was pretty high. Sadly, I can’t say I enjoyed Blood Meridian very much.
The positives of the book are clear. McCarthy is a master of prose. Every word and point of punctuation is careful and effective. His descriptions are frank, but also extremely evocative. His style is also very easy to read, which is always a plus in my mind. Blood Meridian also manages to pack in some pretty profound statements here and there in the dialogue.
My problem with the book comes down to the fact that I don’t feel like it’s really about anything. I mean, sure, it’s about violence and how violence was such a nasty part of the foundation of America. But so what? That point could be gotten across by showing one or two massacres. The way the book plays out there are tons of massacres, rendered in vivid and horrendous detail, but by a certain point it all just becomes perfunctory. The band of cowboys rides a bit. They sit down to talk or philosophize. A couple of them die or kill each other. Then they all go and slaughter Apaches. Rinse. Repeat.
The “development” in the story follows almost a Heart of Darkness approach where things get more and more crazy and out of control. The antagonist of the book, ‘the judge’, practically becomes a Kurtz-like figure by the end. This might have been interesting, but I just kept asking why? And if the point of the book is the very pointlessness yet inevitability of war and violence, then all I can say is that there isn’t enough perspective drawn.
For example, the Coens’ No Country for Old Men, apparently a very close adaptation of the source novel, is also about the constant, pointless, inevitable violence present in America (and the world, really). But it isn’t just a presentation of that violence. Instead, it frames the violence through several points of view, ultimately settling on the perspective of Tommy Lee Jones’ character. What we get isn’t just a vision of violence, but an exploration of how that violence has remained a constant despite the perspective of age making it seem as though it has gotten more pronounced over time.
Blood Meridian tries to do this at some points, but doesn’t do it well enough. What’s left over is a repetitive story that feels like its bludgeoning the reader into realizing that the settlement of America was not some clandestine event blessed by God. Seriously, McCarthy, I already knew that. I didn’t need to read countless descriptions of people being scalped in order to get the point. It’s fine prose in service of a less than interesting story.