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The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five
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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West - Cormac McCarthy Cormac McCarthy conflicts me like no other author save Haruki Murakami. McCarthy's prose stylings sometimes make me go "Whoa!" and sometimes "WTF man could you just please use punctuation like a normal person?!" His style is very much part of the "experience" of reading this book. I kept wondering how long he spent crafting each sentence, whether he just belts them out like that or if each and every one is a finely-crafted piece of word-smithing that he lingers over and works and reworks. Gads, I hope he isn't able to just shit prose like this like it ain't no thang, 'cause it ain't human!

In the evening they came out upon a mesa that overlooked all the country to the north. The sun in the west lay in a holocaust where there rose a steady column of small desert bats and to the north along the trembling perimeter of the world dust was blowing down the void like the smoke of distant armies. The crumpled butcherpaper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium and herds of deer were moving north in the last of the twilight, harried over the plain by wolves who were themselves the color of the desert floor.

Other times, though, his prose waxes on to the point of near-inscrutability. And underneath it, you sense McCarthy is saying something profound, but you just can't grasp it. It's all covered with dried blood and the buzzing of flies and peeled skins and grinning skulls.

This is a really, really violent book. There's no moral message, no redemption, and really, not much of a plot. A band of tough killin' hombres run amok through the untamed west, initially on a semi-legal commission to kill Indians for the Mexican government, but pretty soon they are killing anything and anyone in sight. The book is one massacre after another, all described in some of the most vivid prose I've ever read. The bloodbaths are an intrinsic part of the landscape, violence as natural to the land as the rocks and the sun, and McCarthy describes this brutal, amoral West without the slightest bit of sentiment or glorification or optimism. Men fight, men die, and while they live they live in baser conditions than any Hollywood movie has dared show. After a while you stop even questioning how historically authentic this book is; it doesn't matter if McCarthy's descriptions of the various Indian tribes and desert settlements and skirmishes between Americans and Mexican and Indians are even remotely accurate. This is a bloody fable about an alternate universe that looks like ours with all faith and hope and humanity flensed from it.

There is tons of action, but I wouldn't call this an adventure or a fast-paced thriller; the characters drift towards what you know is an inevitable end, each scene topping the last for an excess of violence and depravity. Yet McCarthy manages to write all this visceral violence without seeming exploitative or carnographic. Blood Meridian won't make you feel icky and dirty after reading it, it will make you feel bleak, maybe a bit numb, maybe a bit awed.

I am not sure how to rate this. McCarthy's prose deserves high praise for most excellent craftsmanship, but why did at times it seem so damn pretentious? I usually don't like books where the writing style ostentatiously calls attention to itself. Sometimes it served its purpose and sometimes it distracted me. There is certainly nothing cheery or satisfying in the story itself, nor is there much resolution. But I think I am going to have to give it 5 stars despite it definitely not being one of my most enjoyed recent reads, because I have to recognize McCarthy's artistry. Also, one other element in this book elevated it to 5-star status:

The Judge

Just take my word for it, this dude is one scary mother-f***er and the creepiest villain you've read in a long time. He is the Devil incarnate. He's like a fantasy element dropped into this Western fable, but he (and the author) never quite admit that he's anything other than a man.

One of the reasons I liked No Coutry for Old Men was Anton Chigurh. Well, if Anton Chigurh and the Judge ever meet, it will be the two of them riding with the other two horsemen of the apocalypse. Goddamn.

McCarthy is still a mixed bag for me. Hated The Road. Liked NCFOM. Blood Meridian... I am still not sure. But my gut says 5 stars, even though I don't want to go read another Cormac McCarty novel real soon.