Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Blood Meridian is such a revision of the Hollywood westerns of the 40s and 50s that it’s an overcorrection. Gore permeates the book and might as well stain the pages red—the story is all chaos and blood. The writing stylistically ranges from depths scarcely more than primitive grunts to the abstract and noble heights of Shakespearean combat. For its unusually stark carnage and the sheer virtuosity of its language I suspect Blood Meridian will long resist and invite interpretation.

Attempting to explain a story like this is probably as futile as trying to fully explain America itself. It’s vastly too cynical to represent the America’s ideals because the country has always been fundamentally hopeful, which the western traditional represents; it can only represent the ugly excesses of America that, although I would like to deny their existence, are a part of the national character and past. We worship hope and freedom, but also, like all large cultures, war. Blood Meridian is a totem to the war idol, a severed head on a pike that is the standard we instinctively rally around. It is a reminder of what we don’t want to be and sometimes are.

This makes Blood Meridian a hard read in terms of content as well as style—as opposed to Faulkner, who is difficult solely through style. In the introduction to my edition, Harold Bloom calls McCarthy the heir of both Faulkner and Melville, making me wonder if that is just shorthand for inscrutable. I don’t want to work to read when it’s not absolutely necessary. McCarthy’s aversion to punctuation irritated me, even if I understand that he was trying to make the text flow like a red river. Every time I have to stop reading so I can understand what’s modifying what in a sentence I am tugged out of the world, which may be for the best, considering the visceral description of killing.

Reading Like a Writer

Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer deserves all the praise it’s received and then some. It could be named Reading Like a Good Reader—the kind of reader nearly every serious writer would love to have and too few actually do.

Reading this book is like having a knowledgeable senior professor as your guide in a seminar; it feels relaxed yet intense, and the feeling of being with an expert never departs. The book list at the back is useful too—I now look forward to picking up several of Henry Green’s books, although I’d never heard of him. There are too many writers like Henry Green who are too good for me to have never heard about them, and that is in part why I write this: to share the finds that make me say, “Hey! How have I reached this age and yet not known about this master?”

Or, at the very least, how have I not heard about this idea, since there are so many books and so little time. To the extent Prose’s book can be summarized, her advice to authors would probably be to read widely and deeply, and that they should pay attention to both the way others convey ideas and the details of the external world.

That’s sound advice that can be generalized to any person, in any profession, anywhere. The problem is in implementing the advice, and that is what Reading Like a Writer tries to help the reader—and aspiring writer—do.

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