You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blood Meridian

I had heard about Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy while listening to How to Read and Why, and decided I should read it. It is a visceral and vivid fictional account of Texas and Mexico in the early 1850's when the war against Indians was bloody and vicious.

The protagonist is the Kid, a fourteen-year-old boy who wanders through Texas and ends up joining a band of cavalry fighters that are riding against Indians. The group is ambushed and nearly everyone dies. The kid and one of his comrades end up in jail, where another band of rogue fighters recruits them. The band is led by Captain Glanton, a ruthless leader, and the judge, another ruthless murderer who is an ultimate killer.

The band and new recruits ride across the Mexican desert, killing Indians, scraping by for food and water and ammunition, and terrorizing small towns. At one point the kid gets separated from the group and wanders over a snowy mountain until he comes across them again, licking their wounds and running from a bigger band of Indians.

They come to a city where they are richly rewarded for the Indian scalps. They proceed to drink and whore through the night, for several nights. Eventually they leave town and start chasing down more Indians. They end up near California, where they take over a ferry and begin robbing travelers. After several weeks, the nearby group of Indians attacks them and kills Glanton. The group scatters, and the kid and his friend, an ex-priest, end up wandering the desert and encountering the judge. The judge offers to buy the kid's pistol from him, since he doesn't have one himself. He offers hundreds of dollars, but the kid refuses, believing that the judge will kill him if he hands over the weapon. The kid and the ex-priest end up in a city, and the kid is arrested. When he is freed, he cannot find the ex-priest or any of his fellows. He takes odd jobs, gets older, becomes a guide, and ends up back in Texas. There he encounters the judge one more time.

The judge is a force of nature, an incarnation of violence itself. He is an educated man who gives monologues on death and war. He knows how to make gunpowder and how to kill Indians. He often goes around naked. He is essentially a god of war and death, eternal and powerful. More than anyone he is the driving force of the book. The kid basically fades into the background for much of the central part of the book, and we watch Glanton and the judge and the others kill and run. Much of the story is the band riding through rough country, either chasing Indians or being chased by them.

The style of language is different, and often hard to read. It was slow reading for most of it. The tone is often esoteric or poetic. I found many of the metaphors quiet illuminating, though a few were overbearing. There is a definite religious theme throughout, with virtual cathedrals and religious discussions. The book is defined as a Western, and it definitely has Western elements. But it is much deeper than a typical Western, and the violence is more descriptive. We are told how the band massacres a group of Indians on the shore of a lake, and the lake water turns pink with blood.

The end is ambiguous, but we are left with the impression that the judge kills the protagonist, now a middle-aged man. The overall effect of the book is one of war as a force of nature, a coming-of-age in blood and gunpowder. It's an A-, and well worth reading.


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