In David Foster Wallace's posthumous essay collection [b:Both Flesh and Not|13528351|Both Flesh and Not Essays|David Foster Wallace|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1338050573s/13528351.jpg|19082141] there's a little piece called "Five Direly Underappreciated US Novels > 1960," and Wallace goes off on paragraph-long defenses of some books he likes - "Bleak but gorgeous," he says of [b:Omensetter's Luck,|156188|Omensetter's Luck|William H. Gass|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347246872s/156188.jpg|150721] "like light through ice." But when he gets to Blood Meridian there's just this one line under it:
"Dont even ask."
Unfortunately everyone did anyway and this book, where you can identify the good guys as the ones who haven't actively killed any babies or puppies yet, is considered a Great American Novel by people who are probably no fun at parties at all.
Based on a true story about how everyone is terrible and life is torment, and also [b:this guy's diary|1094401|My Confession Recollections of a Rogue|Samuel E. Chamberlain|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347577743s/1094401.jpg|1081221] which sounds like a joy, Blood Meridian has more in common with [b:Inferno|15645|Inferno (The Divine Comedy, #1)|Dante Alighieri|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1333579470s/15645.jpg|2377563] and [b:Paradise Lost|15997|Paradise Lost|John Milton|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309202847s/15997.jpg|1031493] than any specifically earthly matters. It feels more like a tour of Hell than of the Southwest circa 1850, and the monumental Judge Holden is the best Satan since Milton's, a relentlessly amoral force who insists on only two things: war and science. Like Milton's Satan, he gets all the best lines:
Whatever exists without my knowledge exists without my consent...Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.
By the way, and watch what happens next:
What's a suzerain?
A keeper. A keeper or overlord.
Why not say keeper then?
McCarthy does that after many of the Judge's speeches - just poking at them, and poking at his own tendency toward high-falutin' language while he's at it.
But McCarthy does share Milton's terrible force and authority with language. (And, while we're making comparisons, David Foster Wallace's tendency to play "fuck you" with a thesaurus.) What I learned about how to read him: a) do it slowly; b) don't worry overmuch about all the words you don't understand. (Although it is nice to read on a Kindle so you can look at least some of them up.) And take some pleasure in the moments when McCarthy describes "a urinecoloured sun," or "a solitary lobo, perhaps gray at the muzzle, hung like a marionette from the moon with his long mouth gibbering."
Yes, this is a brutal book. Tough to read. But it's very good.
And I don't even mean that sort of book where you're like ugh, I guess it's good,
I wish it was also enjoyable to read.
You do get that feeling sometimes, but it fades as you go. By the end, the weirdest thing happens: as the climax hits you're actually excited. You're hoping the good guys, such as they are - less bad? - win. Obviously they don't, but they do lose in what I found to be a tremendously satisfying and right-feeling way. Of all things, this book made me sad to realize I was near the end of it.
I'm not sure this is a Great American Novel, just because I'm not altogether convinced it takes place in America. But it is great. And not just for reading! Check it out:Blood Meridian Charades
One of the things Cormac McCarthy enjoys is dead babies, but another is writing "like some" and then something insane. In this game, you pick anything that comes after "like some," and then try to act it out. If your friends don't get it, everyone drinks! Here, I've picked out a few to get you started:
- "Loutish knight be-riddled by a troll"
- "Pale and bloated manatee surfaced in a bog"
- "Hot scurf blown from some unreckonable forge howling in the waste"
- "Egregious saltland bard"
- "Land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear"
I put a much longer list in a comment below.
Have fun and keep it clean!