Book Review: Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West

McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West. 2010 Modern Library Edition ed. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

 

Many consider Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian too violent to read. Violence begins onGUEST_e7b7a5bd-5894-4e82-907d-da212ef1d4e8 the second page and continues unabated to the end. McCarthy delivers a treatise on man’s inhumanity to man in the form of genocide. Blood is a constant theme as blood is spilled in one senseless massacre after another. Blood is not the result of conflict, but the reason for it.

McCarthy weaves what could be a series of short stories describing the worth or lack of indigenous people’s lives in the latter half of the nineteenth century west. The story, seen through the eyes of the narrator, follows the Kid and a gang of killers. McCarthy’s narrator never allows the reader inside the mind of the characters. We learn only what McCarthy wants as he develops his characters. He forces the reader to imagine one’s vision of the murderous thoughts. He is masterful in constructing his performers while forcing his readers to judge them.

McCarthy uses understated allegory to deliver messages that express what the characters are or what they represent. Spitting is used throughout as a symbol of the low regard the men have for anything, including human life. The insult of the act says more than dialogue could deliver. Wolves are symbolic actors. Almost daily, we see wolves. The humans and the wolves are representative of hunters looking for easy prey. The only difference, wolves kill for survival.

Glanton and his gang are inherently immoral, evil, clichés of bad guys in black hats. The governments of Mexico and the United States, equally evil, legitimatize genocide. This allowed for the ferocious and persistent murder and attempted extermination of the native peoples of both countries.

Genocide is the predominant theme. Except for the Delaware’s, the Indians are shown as savages. This holds even when the Diegueño Indians rescue the Kid and the ex-priest. “They would have died if the indians had not found them” (312). The narrator refers to these people as savages, as aborigines. “they saw the halfnaked savages crouched…” (312).

Two central characters, Glanton and the Judge, build upon the theme of genocide. Glanton, when he kills an old Indian woman sitting in the square of an impoverished Mexican village. When he sees three of his men squatting with her, he dismounts and kills her. “The woman looked up. Neither courage nor heartsink in those old eyes. He . . . put the pistol to her head and fired” (102). On the very next page, he confirms his complete contempt for life when he tells the only Mexican in his band to scalp the woman’s corpse with these chilling words, “Get that receipt for us” (103). She is nothing more than a hundred-dollar bounty.

The reader becomes almost inured to the violence. Once the butchery began, it seems as though there can be nothing more disturbing—there is—the Judge is evil incarnate. The gang surprises and attacks a large Indian encampment, “the partisans [Glanton’s men] nineteen in number bearing down upon the encampment where there lay sleeping upward of a thousand souls” (161). The Judge leaves the devastated village with a captured child, a ten-year-old boy. He treats the child humanely, and the boy becomes somewhat of a mascot. Three days later, the depth of the Judge’s evil is shown. “Toadvine saw him with the child as he passed with his saddle, but when he came back ten minutes later leading his horse the child was dead and the judge had scalped it” (170). The reader is left to wonder if the Judge killed the boy because he thrives on murder, or if he defiled the child and killed him afterward.

McCarthy’s colorful and graphic language adds significantly to the ability of the reader to see, understand, and experience the scenes and settings. Short and straightforward, his portrayal of the gang as they cross the desert, conveys in a few easy to read lines, in which the reader can feel, and smell the riders. “They rode on, and the wind drove the fine gray dust before them and they rode an army of graybeards, gray men, gray horses” (259).

The Kid, born into a violent world, dies a violent death forty-five years later. Some assume that the Judge, a pedophile, and sexual deviant, rapes the Kid and leaves him for dead. We’ll never know the answer.

McCarthy’s final message to the reader, evil cannot be eradicated; it lives forever.

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STUCK? REACH FOR HELP

Recently I was working on a new scene from Book II of the Liberty Trilogy. Reading it aloud, I noticed a decided lack of personal attributes. I needed to give my character something to show of himself.

A few years back, I bought five books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi designed to help the writer with characters and settings. I keep the books within arm’s length. However, more often than not, I forget them. I reached for The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes.

Searching the index, I couldn’t find a trait that fit what I had in mind. Oh, well, find something. I noticed three characteristics that gave me an idea of how to rewrite several paragraphs. When finished, I was happy with what was now on the paper. I decided to keep the guide on my desk.

Days later, I needed another clue. Reaching for the guide, I noticed the book on my desk was The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws.

I reread the scene and decided the character flaws made for a more compelling character and storyline than positive traits.

Thanks, Angela and Becca.

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SIP Writers Retreat

Today is the second day of the SIP Writers Retreat. Haven’t heard of this retreat? Try Shelter-in-Place.

I always write more when attending some type of retreat or isolation. Confined to the house, my tasks (excuses) are significantly reduced. The Boss has forbidden my daily visits to breakfast places, Starbucks, and any other activity requiring travel beyond the driveway. I am allowed to pick up the newspaper.

Yesterday, I edited work from a few days ago. When it was perfect, I sent it to a writer friend in Oregon. I was hoping for, “it’s great,” instead it came back bleeding from MANY editorial comments. I called her and expressed my displeasure with her complete lack of comprehension of my masterpiece. I may have dropped an F-Bomb or two.

An hour or so after the call, I went back and examined her inflammatory comments. Out of kindness for her effort, I made over half the changes she suggested. Now, mind you, my work was masterful; I made the changes prop up her ego.

Then I wrote the scene where I kill off the second most popular character. I tried editing and rewriting the work—the writing sucks—big time.

Guess what—I sent it to Oregon.

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Book Review: A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories. London: Picador, 2015. Print.

Berlin’s stories are interwoven, almost as a memoir. The old writers’ saw, ‘write what you know’ is visible throughout the work. She brings her story to life in a manner that enables the reader to feel the emotions that her characters’ experience. “It has been seven years since you died” (386). The emotional pull hits like a hammer.

Berlin has no fear of reflecting on life as she addresses addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, suicide, and depression. Throughout the stories, she weaves a web about an abusive, alcoholic, and suicidal mother.

Her work is dark, depression laden. We see this darkness when the protagonist is contemplating her sister’s death. “Every day you’ve said good-bye a little. Oh just get it over with, for God’s sake” (381). Her multifaceted characters can turn an otherwise sad scene into one of joy. While waiting for the sister to die, she moves her under the bedroom window where she sees the sky and feels the warmth of the sun. The reader shares the feeling of beauty and warmth.

Berlin uses imagery to show contradiction, despair, and lack of hope within her characters. Through it all, her work is believable and full of imagery. No more so than in this paragraph from “Electric Car, El Paso”.

Mrs. Snowden … passed me fig newtons wrapped in talcum Kleenex. The cookie expanded in my mouth like Japanese flowers, like a burst pillow. I gagged and wept. Mamie smiled and passed me a sachet-dusted handkerchief, whispered to Mrs. Snowden, who was shaking her head (157).

Not only does she bring scenes to life through imagery, she does the same with objects such as her mother’s ratty old coat. “It had a fur collar. Oh the poor matted fur, once silver, yellowed now like the peed-on backsides of polar bears in zoos” (245).

Everything she writes is realistic. Her characters are believable, imbued with human traits, blemishes, and goodness. All are flawed, allowing the reader to understand their actions and motives.

Many of the characters in this collection reappear in various stories. We have plenty of time to get to know them. But even in stories about one character, she develops them in-depth, with simple phrases and words. In “Mijito” we learn a great deal about the young Mexican girl Amelia. Berlin puts us into the girl’s life as she cares for her infant son. We experience abandonment, abuse, unintended child abuse, hopelessness, and terror. We know Amelia before she accidentally kills the infant. “’ Amelia. Do you know that Jesus is dead?’ ‘Yes, I know. Lo se.’ And then in English she said, ‘Fuck a duck. I’m sorry’” (355).

Berlin is non-judgmental. She presents the world as it is, blemishes and all.

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Pilz & Liberty

Recently my good friend and fellow writer, Julie Royce, agreed to be a Beta Reader for my novel Liberty. For some unknown reason she chose to identify with a small character, a part-time prostitute. In Liberty, Julie a single soccer mom needs to supplement her income to support her two daughters. She works a couple of shifts each week at a massage parlor where she plys the worlds oldest trade. Why Ms. Royce assumed she was the basis for the character’s name is beyond me. However, she has informed the world “In my next novel, the axe-murderer will be named George!”

You can see her blog at http://www.jkroyce.com/?page_id=366.

For a link to Julie’s novel PILZ click on this link: http://goo.gl/N4cFeA

If there is enough interest about how Julie and Officer Hector Navarro of the Liberty, Arizona police, spare while he trys to ensnare her, I will publish an excerpt from Liberty here for all to enjoy.

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Why It’s Okay to Take a Break from Writing

Marilyn Meredith is my guest today and as always, it is great to have her join us. Marilyn will share her thoughts on why we might be justified in taking a break from writing.

Marilyn will also share a few thoughts about her new book, River Spirits. She is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series.

Marilyn is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and is on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in a community very similar to that of her protagonist, Deputy Tempe Crabtree.

You can visit her at http://fictionforyou.com</ul or read her blog at http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/.

Marilyn_Meredith2

George asked me to address this issue. To be honest, I wish I didn’t have to take as many breaks as I do. The reasons I take breaks are:

1. I have non-writing chores to do away from the computer–I do have a regular life. You know like doing errands, grocery shopping, planning and cooking meals.
2. I have a paying writing job. These come every so often and they have nothing to do with the “fiction writing” life.
3. Promotion has taken me away from home.
4. I’m planning/working on promotion.
5. Going on a trip. While I write this, I’m away from home, visiting family. I have a big family and when I get the chance, I love spending time with time with them.
6. But once in a while I do go on a trip just for fun.

However, I think what George really wanted me to talk about is refilling the well.

What I mean is sometimes when we’ve been doing a lot of writing or finished a book, we need to take time off and do something else. Focusing on something different for a while, can renew our energy.

When it’s time to start another writing project, we will be ready.

Because I write two different series, when I’ve sent the latest book in one series off to the publisher, I step away from the place and people I’ve been spending so much time with. It’s like shutting the door on them.

Though I don’t usually take too much time, I start thinking about the next project long before I’m ready to open the door and step into the other setting and greet the characters who live there.

Breaks can refresh you as a writer–whether you take long ones or shorts ones is up to you.

Marilyn

River Spirits

River Spirits

While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Biography

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour. He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow you’ll find me visiting with Mary Welk.

My topic: The Supportive Writers’ Community

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Joe

O-Dark-Thirty

by George Cramer

Forty years ago Agent Orange covered Pete head to foot. Not yet known as killers, his platoon cursed the mess left by the defoliate. Later he laughed at their ghost-like photo images. Now sixty-eight, he mused, I’m just another casualty of the Vietnam War. The doctors gave him six weeks.

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