I Listened to Blood Meridian at Work

Posted by @ 6:54 pm on June 2nd, 2011

I have a job. The job is a summer job. I don’t have a full time job because I’m a college student. The job is working on a farm. I am a farmhand. My boss tells me to shovel dirt in a specific direction and I do it. Sometimes I hoe around Swiss Chard. Other things too. Most of the tasks are pretty monotonous and can several hours to complete. Different workers have their own way of dealing with this. The Skidmore grad chain smokes. The middle-aged Vietnamese man takes piss breaks. I listen to things on my iPod. I’d never listened to an audiobook at work, nor had I read a Cormac McCarthy novel, so I decided I’d kill two birds with one stone and give Blood Meridian a try. It took about three days of work to get through the story. When I started it, I was shoveling mulch from bigger piles into smaller piles. When I finished it, I was sitting down in a field my boss calls “The Plain.”

I didn’t know anything about the book when I started listening. I thought it had something to do with the desert, and I was correct. The person who read the novel is named Richard Poe. He’s also famous for playing Gul Evek in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here is a picture of Richard Poe with his signature and television makeup. He added to the literary experience by reading slowly in an ambiguous old man accent, altering his voice slightly for different characters. He made The Kid sound inquisitive and defensive and The Judge powerful and funny. I can’t explain how he made him sound funny. It was sort of like the character always spoke as if he thought everything was a joke because he was so much better than everyone. This was surprisingly effective in shaping my notion of this character.

Actually, I should point out that I didn’t follow most of the novel. I was listening while doing things, sort of pausing to sweat and drink water, say things like “Nice breeze” and “I’m waitin’ on those clouds to roll back in,” and receiving orders from my boss. It’s not Cormac McCarthy’s fault that the plot was pretty much entirely lost on me, nor was it Richard Poe. I appreciate his vocal alterations as they established direction and reaction throughout the novel—things I couldn’t be bothered to do myself while transplanting different varieties of pepper.

That being said, the novel is pretty plotless as far as I could tell. Person gets on horse, rides with other people, sees Mexicans, sees Indians, tries not to get killed. There are several characters that go through this pattern. Most die.

The violence in the book might have been the most exciting thing. It seemed exciting. I like the quote at the beginning that said over 300,000 years ago, people were still scalping other people. The descriptions of scalping were funny and scary. The actual blood in the novel seemed kind of cool, or cute. Everything was bloody or red, or other colors. At one point, a character injures his arm and days later, when The Kid takes his shirt off to use it as a sort of bowl, the other person won’t take his shirt off, and when he does his arm is pussing yellow, and eventually I think he was killed by Indians. There are hangings and shootouts and decapitations. Everyone is wearing boots.

One big theme in the novel seemed to be space. People seemed doubtful of religion, but at separate points in the novel, distinct characters who never encountered one another held some collective concern regarding the notion of life on other planets, and the nature of humanity. Humanity being fucked. Violence, lawlessness, all around hatred without reason or understanding or even care to understand the reason. People walk around, think about water, get off their horses, sit on their horses, their horses’ feet hurt, the people don’t care. At one point, a meteor falls and nothing is said about it.

Another theme, I guess, is truth, or justice—The Judge being a sort of symbolic entity, which I may have been able to better explain or analyze had I read Blood Meridian, rather than listen vacantly. The Judge talks about dancing as some form of this larger central idea at then end of the story, and then everyone seems to dance. Even a bear dances. Other animals in the book include donkeys, ponies, horses, dogs, coyotes, antelope, buzzards. I think the description of buzzards was responsible for my dream midway through this week of being lifted up by a giant bird of prey who then tried to eat me while I pulled out its teeth and cut open its eyes in the air.

The word “meridian” returns several times. I guess that’s cool. I don’t remember “blood meridian” ever being phrased, which is acceptable, though I think I would’ve have rather enjoyed it. Was that phrase ever uttered? Readers of this review who have also read the novel, can you tell me?

I ended up actually really liking the novel. I started out thinking it was pretty stupid. McCarthy describes things to a length that is not required, in my opinion. He writes about things that would interest a large group of readers, but probably alienates a lot of people with his showy vocabulary and descriptions. Sometimes he makes a metaphor which does a lot less than the literal act or image (I’d give an example, but I don’t have a copy of the book to refer to.). He describes colors as “China,” though I think maybe he describes them as “china.” Either way… But hey, honestly, it was a good book. It was funny and violent and sometimes a character would tell a long story within the story and Richard Poe would have to maintain that characters’ voice against the narratorial voice and then when the story within the story was over he’d have to make adjustments back to his third-person narrative tone and he would get confused a little and the whole thing would become one.

Blood Meridian put a lot of things in context for me. When I felt fatigued, at least I’d gotten seven hours of sleep instead of riding a horse through the night to avoid bloodthirsty Apaches. When I felt hot, at least it was only 85 degrees and not 115. When I felt thirsty, at least my Nalgene was 50 feet away and I wasn’t days without it. The Wild West was a cruel time. They didn’t even have iPods.

At more than one point in the story, the characters walk along lava and it causes the horses hooves to crack and everyone to be very uncomfortable. That seemed really awesome.

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