Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West : Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West
By Cormac McCarthy

Like Phillip Meyer's The Son, this novel not only describes the relentlessness and unforgiving nature of the West during the formative times, but also the tough, chaotic and unpredictably violent people it attracted.

A few notes on the form.  First, the protagonist is never named and is referred to as "the kid." He uses physical violence to survive: think of if the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange was by himself in the West.  Beat and kill first, then take the money, food, etc.

Second, the narrative initially focuses on the kid, but he later joins up with a group of men, who are paid to hunt and scalp native Americans and who either are as or even more chaotically violent than s the kid.  The narrative shifts focus to cover the group, to the point where there are swaths of text, where the kid is not mentioned at all.

Lastly, and I am not a master of grammar, but the novel starts off with a fascinating initial tense (past continuous?):

  The kid wasnt going to do that and he saw no use in discussing it. He kicked the man in the jaw. The man went down and got up again. He said I'm goin to kill you.
  He swung with the bottle and the kid ducked and he swung again and the kid stepped back. When the kid hit him the man shattered the bottle against the side of his head. He went off the boards into the mud and the man lunged after him with the jagged bottleneck and tried to stick it in his eye. The kid was fending with his hands and they were slick with blood. He kept trying to reach into his boot for his knife.
  Kill your ass, the man said. They slogged about in the dark of the lot, coming out of their boots. The kid had his knife now and they circle crabwise and when the man lurched at him he cut the man's shirt open. The man threw down the bottleneck and unsheathed an immense bowieknife from behind his neck. His hat had come off and his black and ropy locks swung about his head and he had codified his threats to the one word kill like a crazed chant.
A few other notes: there is not a strong plot-line.  It more follows the kid / the group's travels through the west and their series of violence, but in doing so, you get a sense of the environment and the different personalities.

The optimist's daughter : Eudora Welty

The Optimist's Daughter
By Eudora Welty

The Optimist's Daughter focuses on Laurel McKelva, a young widow, who returns to New Orleans to see her father, before he passes away from complications of an eye surgery.  It then describes her dealing with the death and the tensions between her and young step-mother, as well as her with other small community members, who have their own agenda.

I was slightly reminded of Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? when reading this.  It comes nowhere as close to being as biting and acidic as that classic, but each character, even minor ones, have their own distinct (irrational) personality and the conflicts due to these difference comes across in dialogue.
  "I couldn't save him." He laid a hand on the sleeve of each woman, standing between them. He bent his head, but that did not hide the aggrivement, indignation, that was in his voice. "He's gone, and his eye was healing."
  "Are you trying to tell me you let my husband die?" Fay cried.
"He collapsed." Fatigue had pouched the doctor's face, his cheeks hung gray. He kept his touch on their arms.
  "You picked my birthday to do it on!" Fay screamed out, just as Mrs. Martello came out of the room. She closed the door behind her. She was carrying a hamper. She pretended not to see them as she drummed past on her heels.
  Laurel felt the Doctor's hand shift to grip her arm; she had been about to go straight to the unattended. He began walking the two women toward the elevators. Laurel became aware that he was in evening clothes.
  At the elevator he got in with them, still standing between them. "Maybe we asked too much of him," he said grudgingly. "And yet he didn't have to hold out much longer." He looked protestingly at the lighted floors flashing by. "I'd been waiting to know how well that eye would see!" 
The above passage gives an example of the level of distinctness of all three personalities: Fay (the step-mother), impetuous and entitled, the Doctor, rather emotionally clueless in responding to an unexpected death (caring more about how the eyesight would have turned out rather than the two members affected by the death) and Laurel, quietly reflecting and absorbing.

I would not be surprised if this novel is commonly taught in classrooms and dissected, since there's a lot of details to think on, (the first of which that I would bring up being the unusual title.)