them five little words…

I’m now a massive fan of McCarthy’s prose, but I need a count on ‘They rode on’ and ‘He spat’, cause them five words were more common than punctuation in Blood Meridian. Anyone with BM on ebook or kindle can do that?

so, how did the judge kill the kid?

Patrick Shaw in The Kid’s Fate, The Judge’s Guilt suggests the judge sodomizes the kid in the jakes at the end of BM. But that doesn’t ring cruel enough to strike awe among men already numb to violence, or me for that matter. Homo-eroticism is prominent in BM – men hold hands like lovers, they fall asleep in each others arms, the kid is once casually perceived as a male whore, none of which causes a stir. Rape in all its forms is also rampant. One little girl is chained naked by the neck to a wall, and at the lake-side massacre, gang members raped dead or dying male and female bodies, which implies some-unspeakable-thing else happens at the jakes.

the judge's kill hannibal style

The judge gave up on trying to claim the kid in his final play in the desert. Now his only desire is to kill him, most likely with more flare than we’ve seen so far in BM. I think he smothered him or crushed his head with his bare hands, an act he performed at least once in the desert, then skinned him and left his body strung as evidence, Hannibal Lecter style, in the jakes. The kid is finally relieved of his 9th life.

But maybe that’s the evil talking. What’s your take?

blood meridian & beloved: evil twins

two words: irresistible evil

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy, 1986, is the filthy brutal expectorating brother to Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987. Both novels, set in mid 19th century USA, around the time manifest destiny became more than just a notion, explore twin sides of a blood-soaked history: As the atrocity of slavery is perpetrated in the east, the other monster America’s legacy is built on, genocide keeps wicked hands busy in the barren west.

This is a hungry country. p.17

Both novels have a breathtaking lyrical pulse, but while Beloved has beauty (and a plot), everything is harsh, heavy, ugly and relentless in Blood Meridian.

This does not diminish its appeal.

Blood Meridian is McCarty’s imaginative take on the Glanton Gang‘s bloody rampage across the south-western border between 1849 and 1850. (Beloved too is a retelling of the trial of slavewoman, Margaret Garner, c.1856.) Adapted from Samuel Chamberlain’s visual and romanticized memoir,  My Confessions: The Recollections of a Rogue, written for his daughters, McCarthy reinvents the Glanton Gang Moby Dick style. Unlike Chamberlain’s version, we are spared no blood-spatter or braining or entrailspill or infantkill: I lost count of the scalps, ears, hearts, heads and testicles taken in BM. Just when you think there is no other way to kill or rape man, woman, child or beast, another is invented in brutal effect. Every kill or near-kill is significant, even the one too cruel to describe. Evil and dominion, as echoed in BM‘s epigraphs, are not exclusive to the American story, they are part of the larger human story. The judge preaches,

War endures. Before man was war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner. War is god. p.p. 248-249

and the truth of it registers in our annals.

The central character in Blood Meridian, ‘the kid’, a 16 year old runaway, is violent but not evil. He remains incorruptible even as he finds a home among the rabid and vicious scalp-hunters. Judge Holden, a Gene Hackman type meets Milton’s devil, has full control of everyone, John Glanton especially. But he wants the kid. He and his natural rival, the expriest Tobin, another member of the gang, in a “secret commerce” wage a tacit battle to claim him across the desert stretch, but the kid resists.

You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen. p.299

It is only after a near three-decade chase that the judge finally gets the kid, now ‘the man’, to ‘dance’.

here beyond mens judgment, all covenants are brittle. p. 106.

I winced and moaned my way through Blood Meridian. When I got to the dead centre of that terrible book, by the lake, at the very threshold into evil the title describes, I had to put it down and wait a few hours to pick it up again. It went that way for days over the second half of the novel. My heart pounded, I could barely breathe, as a morbid compulsion to see the bloody spectacle through took hold. I am desperate still for it to let me go, as I am haunted by the question: What did the judge do to the man?

cormac mccarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s epic is masterfully told. His forensic ability to stare unflinchingly at the heart and entrails  of American history and say what he sees is remarkable, matched only by his poetic proclivities. He covers not only the vast terrain of the American west, but the terrifying expanse of human capacity for evil.

A mans at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. p.19

Little Children‘s director Todd Field is/was attempting an adaptation after Ridley Scott rejected it as un-filmable. The sheer scale of the violence and terrain are mammoth challenges, so I agree with Scott that this is one for pages. As for Field, I wish him godspeed and good insurance.

cowboys and angels-george michael
war-bob marley


my second-hand $8 copy

I keep At Swim-Two-Birds on tap as without it I’d be a sniveling shell of a reader crouched piteously in a dark corner waiting for a masked author to hack me to pieces. It is my lone promise of comedy for the next ten books or so, which includes the grim reaper himself, Cormac McCarthy with Blood Meridian, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Anthony Burgess’s  A Clockwork Orange.

Which, in turn, led Galactus and me to argue the prevalence of horrors and tragedies on The List. He thinks it’s because ‘critics’ are horrible tragics themselves and I’m loathe to agree. Reference first sentence in post.

A Clockwork Orange is next up because I’m still struggling with the soporific effect of An American Tragedy and I need another short book to remain on target.

I tried A Clockwork Orange many years ago and dismissed it as inaccessible after a few sentences. familialdiscontent urged otherwise and I’m grateful. While the violence is staggering, the tone is brilliant and I’m really enjoying the read. The few Slav words picked up from Galactus’s family, context and this nadsat lexicon solve the access problem.

Here are some juicy tit-bits on A Clockwork Orange:

  1. The title derives from an English adage, ‘to be as queer as a clockwork orange’, which is something appearing natural on the outside, but actually machine on the inside. It alludes to what Alex, the protagonist, will become after ‘corrective’ experimentation.
  2. U.S. publishers originally axed the dénouement to facilitate a ‘less Kennedyan/more Nixonian’ ambiguity. Burgess was not impressed, but caved for the dough. He later commented on his amputated novel, “Life is, of course, terrible,” Resucked, 1986. When I learned this I quickly flipped to the back of my copy to see if it had 20 or 21 chapters. It is, sadly, whole. A deformed novel would have been awesome.

    a clockwork orange film poster, 1971

  3. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation, lead by a very young Malcolm McDowell, is based on the U.S. text. It claims four Oscar nods and is highly recommended by Galactus. I’ve been warned to brace myself, but I’m very keen to see it. It looks the heighth of horrorshow.

    mcdowell as alex, 1971

I gather the novel makes the film seem tame.


Though still a work in progress, here are the novels that I’ll be reading in 2011.

Struck through titles have been completed.
Bold titles are presently being read.
* indicates reread.

  1. 1984-1948-George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Augie March-1953-Saul Bellow
  3. All The King’s Men-1946-Robert Penn Warren
  4. American Pastoral-1997-Philip Roth
  5. An American Tragedy-1925-Theodore Dreiser
  6. Animal Farm-1946-George Orwell*
  7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret-1970-Judy Blume
  8. At Swim-Two-Birds-1938-Flann O’Brien
  9. Atonement-2002-Ian McEwan
  10. Beloved-1987-Toni Morrison*
  11. The Big Sleep-1939-Raymond Chandler
  12. The Blind Assassin-2000-Margaret Atwood
  13. Blood Meridian-1986-Cormac McCarthy
  14. Catch-22-1961-Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye-1951-J.D. Salinger*
  16. A Clockwork Orange-1963-Anthony Burgess
  17. The Corrections-2001-Jonathan Franzen
  18. The Death of the Heart-1958-Elizabeth Bowen
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman-1969-John Fowles
  20. Go Tell it on the Mountain-1953-James Baldwin
  21. The Grapes of Wrath-1939-John Steinbeck
  22. The Great Gatsby-1925-F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust-1934-Evelyn Waugh
  24. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter-1940-Carson McCullers
  25. The Heart of the Matter-1948-Graham Greene
  26. Herzog-1964-Saul Bellow
  27. Housekeeping-1981-Marilynne Robinson
  28. I, Claudius-1934-Robert Graves
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-1950-C. S. Lewis
  30. Lolita-1955-Vladimir Nabokov*
  31. Lord of the Flies-1955-William Golding
  32. Lucky Jim-1954-Kingsley Amis
  33. The Man Who Loved Children-1940-Christina Stead
  34. Midnight’s Children-1981-Salman Rushdie
  35. Mrs. Dalloway-1925-Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch-1959-William Burroughs
  37. Never Let Me Go-2005-Kazuo Ishiguro
  38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-1962-Ken Kesey
  39. The Painted Bird-1965-Jerzy Kosinski
  40. A Passage to India-1924-E. M. Forster
  41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-1961-Muriel Sparks
  42. Snow Crash-1992-Neal Stephenson
  43. The Sound and the Fury-1929-William Faulkner
  44. The Sun Also Rises-1926-Ernest Hemingway
  45. Super Sad True Love Story-2010-Gary Shteyngart
  46. Things Fall Apart-1959-Chinua Achebe*
  47. To the Lighthouse-1927-Virginia Woolf
  48. Ubik-1969-Phillip Dick
  49. Ulysses-1922-James Joyce
  50. Under The Net-1954-Iris Murdoch
  51. Under The Volcano-1947-Malcolm Lowry
  52. Watchmen-1986-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  53. White Teeth-2000-Zadie Smith*
  54. Wide Sargasso Sea-1966-Jean Rhys*