I don’t know where to begin. I finished reading this book two weeks ago and I’m still speechless (about the book, not speechless in general, that’s impossible). I’m still thinking about it. Still trying to decide things. And still feel ill-equipped to explain it to anyone (except in the barest of terms). All I can say is that Blood Meridian is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. I am in awe of it. Like Wayne and Garth to Aerosmith … I feel unworthy.
I’m not going to say anything new here – the novel is 25 years old, it’s on many people’s fave list (probably a certain genre of person – see my views on this in a very early post – though I’m starting to wonder about this now), everyone has reviewed it. And I just don’t think I’m capable of expressing what it is I want to express. A case in point: when stirring a tasty no-sugar hot chocolate in a hostel kitchen, I was asked what I was reading by a fellow traveller. On my reply, which I was kind of chuffed to be able to say – cos let’s face it, the answer could have been much less impressive – I was then asked what the novel was about.
‘Um, it’s about this boy who kind of joins a gang, in the wild west, and there’s all this blood and violence, oh and Indians. Comanches. Scalping. More blood. It’s pretty full on.’
Yep, Rhodes scholar.
Let’s not worry about the plot anyway. That wasn’t so important for me. What was important were the characters, the writing, the intensity of the novel and the way it made me feel.
It’s tricky to write about how a book makes you feel. It runs the risk of the ‘I don’t know Art but I know what I like’ genre of discussion. But that’s about all I can explain about this book. I can tell, though probably not show.
When reading Blood Meridian I was compelled to turn the pages, despite often feeling frightened, disgusted, overwhelmed by violence, and despising many of the characters. Like the men in the novel forced by circumstance (and greed) to keep plowing on through a dead, deadly and inhospitable landscape; I was pushed on by an intensity in the narrative and description (oh the descriptions!), by the collection of words on the page, and a strange whirling in my head and thumping in my chest. By a certain disbelief at what was happening and a need to find out what was going to happen next. Like the guns for hire, I felt covered in grime and sweat, stumbling over rocks and spiky vegetation, frightened, desperate and savage. I’m surprised I too didn’t start spitting every five minutes.
And though the book is said to be the Kid’s story, it’s the Judge that stays with you. I’ve read more than a few times that No Country for Old Men‘s murdering psycho Anton Chigurh is considered one of the scariest muthas created. Well, the Judge kicks Chigurh to the kerb like nobody’s business. Do you want to meet the devil in human form? Introduce yourself to the Judge – a terrifying, all-knowing, seemingly unstoppable journeyman of evil. Is he Lucifer in disguise? Or is it more terrifying if he’s just a man? There are certainly many references to the lower realms as the band of killers make their way through the American south-west. Hell on Earth? Or is an individual’s existence just a private hell of their own?
And yet there is humour in this book. Sure, gallows humour often, and perhaps more of a disbelief at events that leads you to a little breath of laughter in lieu of gnashing your teeth. But it’s there.
For me, raised on John Wayne, Spaghetti Westerns, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Blood Meridian takes the notion of the Wild West expansion and knocks it on its head and shakes it about til it is beaten and bruised into a weeping lump of degradation. Paint your Wagon? How about you flip it over and use it as a barricade against the hordes of desperadoes – native, Mexican and Americano – riding down upon you in a blood lust.
Is this book perfect? Of course not. You can read the original New York Times review, which contains as much criticism as praise. But I haven’t been stirred up like this by a novel in some time. And that’s always a welcome feeling – even if the stirring puts you off balance a bit, or indeed leaves you lying face down in the dirt, scrambling for breath.
Canadian depository: Ottawa Backpackers Inn – under the ‘Sierra Nevada’ bunk in the ‘North America’ room. Fitting, non?