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Blood Meridian Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Reviewer Mel Carriere generally keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground, but he also likes to test the aerodynamic capability of books.

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is a vivid tale inspired by the infamous exploits of the Glanton Gang. All the auhtor had to do is paint the background picture, and he does this with a masterful brush.

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is a vivid tale inspired by the infamous exploits of the Glanton Gang. All the auhtor had to do is paint the background picture, and he does this with a masterful brush.

Literary Flight Test

One of the questions I pose to myself when reviewing Lunchtime Lit books for your education and edification is - "Would this book put me to sleep on an airplane flight over half an hour?" If the answer is yes, then I am inclined to include that caveat in my analysis.

I don't fly often, but when I do, I feel the need to drop by a shop in the terminal for some brain candy. I pick up a Snickers bar for nourishment, than I pick up the literary equivalent of a Snickers bar to keep my attention riveted because, try as I might, I find it difficult to sleep on planes. Mind you - I'm not one of those Nervous Nellies who is paranoid of air travel, I am simply a big man, and my 6 foot four frame with size 15 feet does not fit well in tiny airliner seats, which are increasingly squeezed tighter for profits. Pretty soon they will be packing us on the plane in dog carriers.

Although I enjoy literature in short bursts, my ideal airplane book has to be "accessible," which is a nice way of saying - other than completely boring. At the same time, it has to have something of scientific, historical, or perhaps mythological merit to pique the intellect. I have to come away from it smarter than when I started. For instance, one of my recent successful airplane books was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This story was long enough to get me to Nashville and back again from San Diego, with a few readings interspersed in between. I am sorry to say it broke down and got silly at the end - Shadow riding the Thunderbird was just way too Harry Potter Escape from Azkaban. But for the most part it kept me occupied in my aisle seat from where I can't look out the window for entertainment, but I need to sit there so I can stretch my long legs, tripping the flight attendants as they pass with the drink cart.

The theme of the current article is Not Long Flight Lit by Mel Carriere, though that might make a good series if I flew enough. Instead, I am reviewing Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. Over the course of about 20 lunches this book thrilled and astounded me with the poetic beauty of its language and the unforgiving harshness of its blood-tinged landscape, but I have to ask myself one question. If I was stuck inside a claustrophobic flying metal tube for three hours between San Diego and Nashville for three hours with only this book to keep me entertained for three hours, would it do the job for three hours? The answer, I am afraid, is no, but that doesn't keep me from concluding that this is one of the best damn things I ever read.

If I was stuck inside a claustrophobic flying metal tube for three hours between San Diego and Nashville for three hours with only Blood Meridian to keep me entertained for three hours, would it do the job for three hours?

If I was stuck inside a claustrophobic flying metal tube for three hours between San Diego and Nashville for three hours with only Blood Meridian to keep me entertained for three hours, would it do the job for three hours?

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Although the books disected here don't always survive Mel's flight test, Lunchtime Lit reviews are perfect for your in-flight entertainment. However, Mel does not recommend keeping your phone off Airplane Mode and risk having your plane crash in a ball of flames, just so you can read his latest critique. As usual, Lunchtime Lit reviews are read only on Mel's half hour postal lunch break, never smuggled away from work to be packed in his carry-on luggage, where they could serve as sleep aids on particularly long hauls.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * ** ***

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

Kafka on The Shore

465

173,100

10/17/2016

11/25/2016

22

Life and Fate

848

309,960

11/26/2016

2/15/2017

49

The Mountain Shadow

838

285,650

2/17/2017

4/28/2017

37

A Confederacy of Dunces

392

124,470

4/29/2017

6/5/2017

17

The Martian

369

104,588

6/7/2017

6/29/2017

16

The Slynx

295

106,250

7/3/2017

7/25/2017

16

The Master and Margarita

394

140,350

7/26/2017

9/1/2017

20

Blood Meridian

334

116,322

9/11/2017

10/10/2017

21

* Nine other titles, with a total estimated word count of 2,289,140 and 304 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged sabbatical from reviewing. Barring another one of life's train wrecks this list may someday be current, but don't hold your breath.

Clearly, McCarthy's books translate well onto the screen, but for some odd reason Blood Meridian has been jilted by filmmakers. There have been five attempts to adapt Blood Meridian to cinema, but none of them have made it off the runway.

Clearly, McCarthy's books translate well onto the screen, but for some odd reason Blood Meridian has been jilted by filmmakers. There have been five attempts to adapt Blood Meridian to cinema, but none of them have made it off the runway.

Cormac McCarthy in Film

Blood Meridian author Cormac McCarthy has four of his novels - All The Pretty Horses, Child of God, No Country for Old Men, and The Road, successfully made into films, with No Country even winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Clearly, McCarthy's books translate well onto the screen, but for some odd reason Blood Meridian, a novel that is considered this authors masterpiece, has been jilted by filmmakers. There have been five attempts to adapt Blood Meridian to cinema, but just like most of Mel's hefty and overly verbose Lunchtime Lit books, none of them ever made it off the runway.

The question is why? McCarthy's work is extremely visual, so directors and cinematographers wouldn't have to use a lot of imagination framing scenes, when the heavy lifting has already been done by the novelist. Is it because the story lacks action? The plot is a veritable bloodfest, there are people getting ambushed, murdered, and scalped on every other page, albeit very poetically. Here are three theories on the real reason the book has yet to find a home on film, as postulated by reviewer Adam Epstein:

  1. Excessive violence - On the Quartz website, Epstein writes "The novel features perhaps every example of extreme violence one can think of: brutal murders, scalpings, rapes, implied child molestations… the list goes on." Ha ha, says Mel. Has anybody out there in Lunchtime Lit Land seen Saw or Hostel? There are many fans of the horror genre who wouldn't sneeze at Blood Meridian's carnage, Mel's lovely but sadistic at heart wife being one of them.
  2. The Villain - The featured bad guy of Blood Meridian is a huge bald man called The Judge who, when not murdering, raping, or scalping, collects plant specimens for scientific investigation and pontificates upon philosophy. Supposedly the Judge is too big a specimen to film. Anybody in Lunchtime Lit Land seen Star Wars? Darth Vader was about seven feet tall, but they found somebody to fill out the suit.
  3. The lack of narrative momentum - I suppose meaning that the plot doesn't flow like a river from high to low. Anybody in Lunchtime Lit Land read a book called Infinite Jest (to be reviewed here later Good Lord willing and the river don't rise)? I recently slogged through that behemoth, which starts at the end, then jumps around from middle to end to beginning again repeatedly, so that even good GPS won't stop you from spinning in dizzying circles. Blood Meridian is nothing like that. It begins at one particular point in time then progresses chronologically. Much of the narrative reads dream-like, but who wouldn't get a little dreamy, drifting dehydrated across the desert in the saddle?
The plot of Blood Meridian is a veritable bloodfest, there are people getting ambushed, murdered, and scalped on every other page, albeit very poetically.

The plot of Blood Meridian is a veritable bloodfest, there are people getting ambushed, murdered, and scalped on every other page, albeit very poetically.

Glanton Gang Gruesomeness

Let it not be said that Cormac McCarthy wove a tale out of whole cloth so impossibly brutal that no one dare film it, for fear of being pigeon-holed as some violent visionary. The novel itself is an adaptation of the sanguinary history of The Glanton Gang, reportedly inspired by Samuel Chamberlain's biography - My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue.

My Confession serves as the source for the unthinkable bloodshed that splashes across the pages of Blood Meridian. It recounts the infamous exploits of the John Joel Glanton gang who, in 1849, were contracted by Mexican authorities to kill Apaches in northern Mexico. The gang was paid a bounty of $200 for the scalps of this tribe's warriors, but after the Apaches made themselves scarce, the same merry band of bloodletters took to murdering peaceful Indians. When this source of revenue petered out as well, Glanton and his gang began fleecing Mexicans, the very citizens they had been hired to protect.

The outraged government of Chihuahua, Mexico drove the rapacious thugs into the neighboring state of Sonora, where they committed more atrocities and eventually fled into Arizona. There Glanton's mob took control of the Colorado River ferry at Yuma, where they killed members of the Yuma tribe, then plundered American settlers and prospectors attempting to make the crossing into California. In retaliation the Yumas attacked Glanton, afterward killing and scalping him and members of his gang tit for tat.

Cormac McCarthy's imagination does not have to stretch too far to weave a tale of this notorious band, a story that has been rejected as too bloody by a hypocritical Hollywood, world-renowned for its glorification of violence. All he had to do is paint the background picture, and he does this with a masterful brush.

For the next two weeks they would ride by night, they would make no fire...They rode their horses through the tracks of their dismounting and they buried their stool like cats and they barely spoke at all. Crossing those barren gravel reefs in the night they seemed remote and without substance. Like a patrol condemned to ride out some ancient curse. A thing surmised from the blackness by the creak of leather and the chink of metal.

— Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian

The subtitle of Blood Meridian is The Evening Redness in the West. The redness of the bloody atrocities caused by the people in the prose is as natural as the sunset coloring the evening sky. In other words, we are murdering monkeys.

The subtitle of Blood Meridian is The Evening Redness in the West. The redness of the bloody atrocities caused by the people in the prose is as natural as the sunset coloring the evening sky. In other words, we are murdering monkeys.

Terrible Beauty

I think it is shameful that Cormac McCarthy is rarely mentioned in Nobel Prize conversations. He has taken home a Pulitzer, but the Swedish Academy that doles out the ultimate measure of literary achievement continues to shun him. Possibly this is because his works and associated movies have achieved too much financial success for Nobel voters, who prefer obscure authors mired in poverty. But meanwhile, frequently reviewed Lunchtime Lit author Haruki Murakami, he of the talking cats and dancing magical Little People, is always included in the conversation about Nobel unfairness.

You can't accuse Cormac McCarthy of not trying to create Nobel-worthy, multi-hued textual tapestries with his work. As you can see from the above chart, Blood Meridian has 106,322 colorfully arranged words, not a particularly impressive total, but what is rather astounding is revealed in a study by John Sepich. This student of the superfluous counted Blood Meridian's unique words one lonely, dateless Saturday night, and found they numbered 10,257. One in ten of the book's words was previously unused, which I suppose you could say reduces redundancy in the reading. However, McCarthy took 6 years to compose a 300 page book, so he had lots of time to think up fancy words. Then again, I have heard that if you filled a room with Chimpanzees pounding away randomly on typewriters long enough, one of them would accidentally write the Bible.

I am not denigrating McCarthy's writing skills, I am simply trying to link them to the natural order of things, which seems to be one of the underlying themes of Blood Meridian. As evidence, the subtitle of the novel is The Evening Redness in the West. What this indicates to me is that the redness of the bloody atrocities caused by the people in the prose is as natural as the crimson sunset coloring the evening sky. In other words, we are nothing more than murdering monkeys.

I won't paint a pretty picture of a Western sunset and tell you Blood Meridian is easy to read. If you do try it, I recommend you take a deep breath at the beginning of every sentence, because you won't be coming up for air for a while. I wish Mr. Sepich would have counted the sentences in Blood Meridian as part of his statistical study, a task that would have been more revealing, not to mention easier, since there aren't many.

What I learned to do in order not to asphyxiate myself with Blood Meridian was to read it in cadence, like a poem, breaking up the massive unbroken blocks of text that are McCarthy's sentences into smaller snippets, like chopping up one of those giant horse pills the doctor tries to get you to swallow whole. In this way Blood Meridian can be better absorbed into the bloodstream, and you can better appreciate the poetic prose that paints pictures of terrible beauty, like viewing the awe inspiring expanse of a hurricane from high above, perhaps from that airplane where I sit slack-jawed drooling with a non flight-friendly book on my lap, ignorant of the storm's horrible destruction below, there in my safe place in space.

Have you read it? Rank Blood Meridian!

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on June 22, 2019:

Hmm.... Interesting perspective Lawrence. That never really crossed my mind but you may be on to something. The Hollywood history of the west, with John Wayne riding in with a tall white hat to save the day is largely mythical. On the other hand, there were plenty of instances of marauding gringos riding into Mexico to try to remove chunks of land by force. Perhaps this is a part of the American experience best hushed up.

Thanks for reading, and for your splendid contribution to the discussion.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 22, 2019:

Mel

I think from just reading what you write about the book that I can see why Hollywood hasn't tried to make the movie, it's too close to the reality where the White man was the villian!

Enjoyed the writeup here.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on June 02, 2019:

Thank you John. If my work here can peel one person away from a hypnotizing screen and get them to crack a book, I feel I have done my job. Blood Meridian is not quite as page turning as the Martian, but you being a poet should appreciate its art. I appreciate you dropping in!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 01, 2019:

I have not read this, Mel, but the mere fact that it is based on real events adds to its appeal. Your review does encourage me to read it, and though I haven't read anything written by Cormac McCarthy I did watch and enjoy the movie No Country for Old Men. Good job as always. p.s. I obtained the book The Martian that you recommended and am blown away by the detail and technical expertise. Love it.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 28, 2019:

Thank you Linda. The strange thing about the book is that it describes horrible things in a very beautiful way. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 28, 2019:

Thanks again Stan. I would love to read those.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 28, 2019:

This sounds like a strange, violent, and well-written book. Your article is very interesting, Mel. I'm not certain that I want to read a book with so much bloodshed in it, but I loved your review of it.

Stanley Johnston on May 28, 2019:

It's my favorite novel. I can't get enough of the way McCarthy describes things. Pools of blood resembling tongues on the floor for example. Actually, I have some ideas for a few essays on Blood Meridian.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 27, 2019:

You are quite welcome Mills, the thanks is all mine. I am sure you have reviewed a Cormac McCarthy film or two. Those aren't exactly romantic comedies, so I'm not sure what the sticking point with Blood Meridian is. This is definitely one that needs to get filmed. I appreciate you dropping in!

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on May 27, 2019:

I'm not sure monkeys would like to be compared to the main humans in this book. I'm reminded of an old Dave Bartholomew song entitled "The Monkey," where three monkeys discuss human behavior and think "The very idea is a big disgrace" that they be compared to humans. They talk about all sorts of deplorable acts they'd never do, including murder.

It might take awhile for a screen adaptation of Blood Meridian, but I'm sure it will come to pass someday. People thought nobody would ever adapt Shakespeare's play Titus Andronicus to the screen for the very same reason. However, Julie Taymor did a film version of that play, and I've heard it's a good one. Maybe the sixth time will be the charm for Blood Meridian. Thanks once again for sharing your literary lunch with us.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 27, 2019:

What is really great about the book, Pam, is the beauty of its language. But it takes patience and has to be read in short bursts. I wouldn't call it a page-turner. I appreciate you dropping by.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 27, 2019:

Yes Bill, Cormac McCarthy definitely does seem to have a more pessimistic view of human nature. He definitely does not focus on the goodness of man in his stories. I appreciate you dropping in, friend.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on May 27, 2019:

That's a pretty good summation, Stan. Thanks for dropping in.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 27, 2019:

This sounds like a very exciting book, even if it has a lot of violence. I appreciate your review.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 27, 2019:

I've never read his books, but I have seen two of the films mentioned....violent for sure, but riveting nonetheless. Thanks for the recommendation. My flying days are over, but I do need a good book.

Stanley Johnston on May 27, 2019:

Apocalyptic nightmare

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