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.

Brian Evenson and darkness within

Via Bookslut I came across an interview with Brian Evenson, which with his Bookslut interview led me to write an e-mail to him asking about influences.

I wrote:

I read the interview you gave to Largehearted Boy and not long after continued reading the third part of Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy. It reminds me somewhat of the descriptions of your work; The Deptford Trilogy has its own dark moments, although I think it has a strong undercurrent of right and of morality than what I’ve detected in some of your stories. Have you read it, and if so were you consciously thinking of it?

And yesterday he responded:

I’m glad you came across the Largehearted Boy interview. And yes, I’ve read the Deptford Trilogy, but literally read it fifteen or twenty years ago. I remember liking it–I even wrote a short paper on it for a class I took on Canadian fiction as an undergrad–but remember very little about it. I wasn’t thinking of it consciously, but there’s a good chance that it’s in there somewhere.

I found allusion where there was none, or at least none overtly, but I could see some Davies in Evenson.

Le Guin at the Seattle Public Library

Ursula K. Le Guin gave a short and potent speech about the power of language to shape thought and the suspicion governments naturally have of writers at the Washington State Book Awards last week. Her whole speech is available here, although reading it isn’t as compelling as seeing her.

It would be easy to think that she addressed the failings of our own government, but I suspect she also comments on world events, what with Orhan Pamuk’s recent problems in Turkey as well as the historical opposition of governments to writers. That theme is particularly on my mind, as the play Black Snow, which is based on Bulgakov’s novel, is being shown by the University of Washington Drama school; Bulkagov was a writer much oppressed and suppressed by his government.

Le Guin distilled the big ideas of life and politics into a speech that made those given by some of the other writers—and several gave good ones—seem wan by comparison. Perhaps this is unfair, like comparing a mid-level soccer player to a legend, but when all the players take the field the eye naturally seeks the best.

Afterwards I asked her how much she’d been thinking about the topics she’d touched in her speech when she was writing The Earthsea Trilogy, and she answered by saying that she’d come at it from a different direction. At first I was confused and asked what she meant, and she said that with Earthsea she was telling a story, which is unlike blunt political explication. I suppose she thought me another confused fan, and perhaps I am one, but I am glad I asked anyway.

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