Before I finally got through Blood Meridian, a book that feels much, much longer than it is, I had several false starts. Today my goal is to give you all a couple of suggestions that will make your first encounter with the book an encounter that will see you finishing it in triumph, not tossing it into the fire in despair and cursing your own reading comprehension ability. I’m half joking. You’ll see.
1. Read Blood Meridian slowly
We’re only going to be discussing one chapter at at time. That’s by design, even though some of the chapters are quite short. Read one chapter, come over here and see what everyone has to say about it, add your own observations if you’re comfortable doing so, and recharge for the next 20 pages or so.
The structure of the book is unusual. The sentences are unusual. And many of the sentences are quite long and the clauses just keep coming and pretty soon, if you’re going too quickly, you can’t remember how the sentence started, and so the point of the sentence has vanished by the time you hit the period at the end.
The way you feel while you’re reading it is unusual. And the words are unusual.
On that note:
2. Keep a dictionary handy
Self explanatory, yes yes yes?
Seriously, this is a book where anyone not named Cormac McCarthy is going to encounter many words they’ve never heard of. And you’re not going to pick them up from the context. Skip over “Suzerain” one too many times and your brain is going to fatigue, betray you, and suddenly the reading is going to feel more difficult than it needs to.
Also, it’s just fun to learn words, please take the opportunity.
3. Try not to rush ahead
If you can’t stand waiting, you can’t stand waiting, but I’d recommend going step by step and seeing what the group has to say. I wish I had taken more time on my first few tries.
4. Ask questions if you have them!
However! Some answers just aren’t there, so we’ll be doing a lot of speculating. McCarthy seems, in my opinion, to write BM in defiance of just about every interpretation we can impose on it. There’s nearly always something to contradict any idea I try to put on it.
And if you ask a question that does have an answer, but I know the answer comes later in the book, I’ll probably just say “Wait (please), for that is the way of the universe.”
But ask. I will.
5. Stop if you absolutely hate it
I’m not kidding.
This will be my 10th time through Blood Meridian, and each time, part of me wonders why I’m doing it again. That’s my own goal this time around: to actually figure out why the books haunts me the way it does.
The first time I actually finished it, I was so wrung out emotionally that I wasn’t sure what had happened. This sensation has only gotten keener with each subsequent reading. I hate it, and I love it. It is my favorite and least favorite book.
As the calamities pile up, page after page, and as you realize that it’s 1) not going to relent; and 2) it’s probably only going to get worse, try to be honest enough to ask yourself whether it’s worth finishing it.
I do want to mention, at this early stage, that the body count, while very high, has very, very little graphic violence. The book reads kind of like the Bible. You might skip a paragraph and realize that a whole town is now empty. But the events of the book are presented as something of a recitation of chaotic happenings.
Basically, there’s not a whole lot of detail. This is part of what makes it so disturbing. When something truly awful happens, you’re pretty much just told “And then this happened” and that’s about how much ink McCarthy spills to tell you about it. And then you’re on to the next incident. I hope that doesn’t scare you off.
McCarthy is a dedicated pessimist. If you’re very sensitive to what you read, just know that there’s no rainbow just around the bend.
PS: This is a rave review, even though it doesn’t look like one!
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