Blood Meridian – a review

•September 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Pay attention.

Pay very close attention.

You are being led somewhere by someone who is very skilled. And you may get lost on the way if you don’t pay attention (maybe I am?). But, have no fear, even if you did get lost, the view is outstanding and you can always find your way back to the beginning and pick up the pieces that you missed along the way.

The prose is beautiful. The sentences long. The words difficult. The violence exhausting. But it seems to me that it is more than that. Here McCarthy is building something. Something big. But he is doing it slowly. And like a few pennies taken here and there from a large stack of cash it can get lost in all the chaos until the end when you realize that you are not sure how he is so unaccountably wealthy. And in the end he pulls the sheet away and like the chef exclaims voila and you are left amazed and sometimes scratching your head at what you have before you but knowing it is truly delicious.

Making things more difficult it would seem are the reviews that you read here (to which I add my own percolating thoughts). You will read things here where you may say to yourself that you never read that in the book but since it was difficult and this reviewer says its in the book you must have just not been smart enough to catch it (the Kid stuffed in a commode?). Have no fear – its not because you lack the intellect to truly get it. It just seems that we all have left a little of ourselves in this book, and things that seem obvious are not as obvious as they seem.

But I can honestly say that the ending may not be as ambiguous as you thought. Like a good illusionist, McCarthy dangles a tantalizing tidbit in front of you – the Judge – causing you to forget (or at least relegate to lesser status) other characters in the book. But, let us leave aside questions regarding the supernatural character of this horrible being who appears to revel in mayhem (but is often not the central actor in the drama). I suggest that it doesn’t matter. And let us ask questions that may help us tease out what exactly did and did not happen.

First – why is it important to tell us several times of children missing after the Glanton gang pulls into town, most conspicuous of which is the girl who handles the bear in the end? Many people have posited that this is the work of the Judge, but is there a passage in all of the gratuitous descriptions that places the Judge with these or any children (other than at the river crossing with the idiot)? Is the Judge ever suggested or shown to have any sexual appetite?

Second – who is the expriest and why, when both the Kid and Tobin are pursued by them, does he insist that the Judge is not talking to him but rather the kid? Why does it seem that both are interacting not directly with each other but rather through the Kid? And where does the expriest disappear to in San Diego when the Kid is arrested?

Finally – who is the third character at the “jakes”? Why does it seem that although he has knowledge of what is present but seems blatantly un-appalled by whatever is in there? And why, after all the gratuity in the novel (think of the description of dead babies hanging from trees) do we just get a reaction rather than a description of what exactly the person who exclaims “Good Lord” sees?

And now…

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

Masticating all of this I come to the conclusion that the Kid is the house swept clean – both the Judge and Tobin pull at his soul (it matters not what exactly they are) and Tobin appears to overcome. He repents and confesses his horrible deeds. He wanders the desert with his bible, attempting to help those in need. But the bible he carries he can not read. And with Tobin gone, he has no guide, no interpreter. And he at last is found by the Judge, his broken will no match for the Judge’s whispering. And he finds himself in the end in the fleshy arms of this Judge, unable to overcome his most violent desires…

And so we find him like Humbert Humbert or Meursault – rudderless. And finding himself rudderless, life itself lacks meaning – only a series of opportunities to indulge our own fleshy desires until one day you are met with oblivion and all that you are is no more.



•January 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I had a professor in graduate school who pointed out how the study of clouds has been hindered by the fact that we are able to see them.  This point has sunk in and now I wonder to what extent we misunderstand those things that we can sense simply because we are increasingly more philosophically incapable of delving beneath what is there.

be wary

•October 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Be wary, O my soul,watch over thy conscience; pay no attention to the falls of others, but be instead more attentive to thine own falls.

from A Spiritual Psalter, St. Ephraim the Syrian; Psalm 67

a seussian prophecy

•July 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’m sorry to say so, but sadly it’s true,

that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.

from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss

It is as yet unclear to me whether we purchased a bunk bed or a jungle gym for my two boys this past 4<sup>th</sup> of July, but the outcome (as any parent may gather) is the same.  My two year old, who is an endless source of tension and amusement these days, has demonstrated an incredible capacity through mispronunciation for prophecy.  Rather than bunk bed pronounced with a ‘uh’ as a normal human being might say it, he has been tearing about the house ecstatically talking about his ‘bonk’ bed, pronounced with a definite ‘ah’.

And this past Sunday, as my wife and I were out celebrating our 12<sup>th</sup> year of marriage and our 15 year old babysitter stepped from the room to retrieve the cooking fishsticks, our 2 year old took a dive from a standing position off of the top ‘bonk’.  The exact trajectory remains unclear (although the wounds suggests a bounce off a chest-of-drawers before interfacing with the ground), the results are: a swollen black-eye.

Although it is difficult to discern what was going through our young babysitter’s mind, she behaved admirably, sticking to the credo of “no apparent permanent damage, no need to interrupt mom and dad during quality time”.  Needless to say, there are now new rules in place regarding the proper interaction with said ‘bonk’ bed…

two down

•June 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I used to worry over my chickens.  But, after a couple bite the dust due to natural or otherwise feline-related causes, you tend to forget their names.  We have three remaining egg layers (after several had died), and were preparing to introduce two more that we had raised from chick-dom.  The two were sitting in a dog cage by the main chicken coop.

This past Monday I woke to my wife telling me that we had waited too long to cull our chicken Fluffy (the weak link that has incited feather picking and cannibalism).  Fluffy’s death didn’t way heavily on me – she is not a particularly attractive bird given how badly she has been beaten by the other chickens and, as I said before, she was going to meet her end.  I did feel a twinge of sadness that the meat had gone to waste.  But, too my dismay, it turned out that our two new chickens, Flo and Dot, had had their respective heads removed by what can only be surmised to be a raccoon.  Alas, said perpetrator was unable to obtain access to the cage that they were in so they remained, headless, in the cage. 

And while my two-year-old seemed mildly distressed, the distress didn’t last long.  He wandered church that day telling everyone in his garbled two-year-old manner “A raccoon took the heads of our chickens” to which he received a cursory reply indicating a lack of understanding and a smile.  I think we will cull the flock next year and try again.  Three is not a bad number now.  Just wish they weren’t attacking each other.

research and wonder

•August 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.

Albert Einstein

StarsAs I sat in a class for laser safety (“don’t point one at your or your neighbor’s eye”), I became fascinated by the complexity of the eye and its effect on how we view the world – how we perceive light; how light penetrates and is focused into images we can interpret; how fragile it is.  The realization of this complexity generated a genuine sense of wonder.  And this sense of wonder brought to mind something a co-worker in my own scientific field said one day as we discussed the change in attitude concerning research over the past century.  He noted that science has become a career rather than something that someone pursues out of a pure sense of enjoyment or wonder (something that is wonderfully expressed by the above quote).  And now, after having turned this over in my mind for some time, I realize that this sense of wonder is truly what is missing.  We continually study the “natural” world, attempting to probe ever deeper, never stopping to truly enjoy the beauty and mystery that our queries uncover.  Most of us have forgotten why we pursue this path and cling to the prestige and money it may bring us, justifying these vain glories as being “for the good of the people” all the while having at best no net positive impact on society (those of us in climate related fields being particularly guilty of this).  We have forgotten the child-like wonder we experienced the first time we held a lizard in our hand or sat out and looked at the stars in the arms of our parents that exposed us (albeit unknowingly) to deeper spiritual meaning.

Where is that wonder now?  Will we return or continue down the path we have chosen, never considering the true purpose for the journey?


•March 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Throughout the day, these prayers echo in my head, reverberating even in my own wickedness with praise for you God.  Glory to you O Lord, glory to you.