April 2008
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(4/20) Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy. (read me!)

I'm so behind on book reviews right now, not to mention everything else -- sorry about that! But part of the problem with this one was that after I'd finished reading it, I needed to chew on it a while before I could really put any thoughts together. I both loved this novel and found it almost unbearable to read at times, and now that it's over, I think it's safe to say it's one of the most graphically violent novels I've ever read. So graphic, in fact, that when I heard that "they" were planning on turning it into a film, partly because, I would assume, No Country for Old Men did so well, I literally cringed. Do I really want to spend two hours watching white guys scalp Native American babies and vice versa? I'm thinking not so much.

The thing is, despite the horrific violence in this novel (made doubly horrifying by the fact it's based on real events, by the way), it's so brilliantly written I found myself hoarding its pages. I wouldn't read it unless I was in the perfect setting for reading, and since I do at least 50% of my reading on the bus or while I'm walking somewhere, that cut out a lot of book time. The next thing I knew, I'd been working on the same book for two weeks, which is pretty unusual for me!

Describing the plot of this novel succinctly is a bit of a challenge -- believe me, I tried. But there's just too much that happens to really give you a decent overview. So, suffice it to say it's about the Glanton Gang, a real group of mercenaries who got their start in 1833 when they were hired by the Mexican government to take out roving bands of Apache warriors. They were paid by the scalp, and it wasn't long before the Gang got a real taste for killin' and found themselves branching out, murdering any other Native Americans they encountered, as well as the occasional Mexican or white guy who got in their way.

The novel focuses primarily on two characters -- Judge Holden, Glanton's big, bald, bad-ass of a second-in command, and a 14 year-old runaway known only as "the kid," who joined the group primarily to escape jail after being arrested for filibustering. Holden is sort of like Darth Vader, with "the kid" as Luke Skywalker, inasmuch as Holden is one bad dude and the kid is kind of his moral polar opposite. Except that the kid is not actually a big dorky sweetheart, really -- he's a killer too, he's just a bit more discriminating about it. And, of course, the story is set in Mexico and Texas, not outer space. Also: no Yoda. Or Wookies, more's the pity. OTHER THAN THAT, though, TOTALLY STAR WARS.

Have I mentioned I need sleep?

Anyway, this novel totally blew my mind with its brilliance and is now poised on the cusp of replacing William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! as my all-time favorite "literary" novel. Why McCarthy's The Road won a Pulitzer and this one didn't, I have no idea. Not that I didn't also think The Road was good, of course, though for a post-apocalyptic novel, it was sorely lacking in zombies, if you ask me (oh stop, I'm kidding!). But The Road didn't blow me away the way this novel did. Then again, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has always been like the literary equivalent of the Oscars for me -- rarely does it jibe with my own opinions or tastes.

In any case, read this book! Unless you're really squeamish, in which case you might want to wait for them to make the film, NOT go see it, and then wait even longer until the film is edited for airing on network television. Just a suggestion. For the faint of heart. Yeah. I'm going to take a nap now. [comment on this book review]

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(4/6) No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. (read me!)

A couple of weeks ago, I finally saw the Coen brothers film based on this book, and I was so fascinated by so many elements of it, I couldn't wait to read the novel as well. Until now, the only McCarthy I'd read was All the Pretty Horses in college (wasn't that impressed, though that may have been because I was devouring everything written by William Faulkner around the same time and unless you were Absalom! Absalom! it was kind of hard to impress me) and The Road a year or so ago. While I thought The Road was absolutely terrific, I didn't find it nearly as brilliant as so many other people seemed to. At the very least, I obviously hadn't been so affected by it that I'd immediately raced out to grab copies of everything else McCarthy had ever written.

After reading THIS novel, however, I've already got two more McCarthy novels on hold at the library, and two more in paperback sitting right next to me at this very moment.

Because THIS novel? IS BRILLIANT.

I won't bother telling you what it's about, as the first 250 pages or so very closely follow the movie, and if you want to know what the movie was about, you can go read my review of it. It's really the last fifty or sixty pages I want to talk about -- after all the action is over, and what's left is Sheriff Bell alone with his thoughts. I didn't get much of a sense of Bell as a man from the film (that's the Tommy Lee Jones character, if you're wondering), as he's mostly a side character whose personality we only get a quiet sense of from his occasional voice-over narratives or short conversations with other characters. Based solely on the film, I didn't truly understand what motivated Bell, or why what happened in the story seemed to have such an impact on him. This was made more clear in the final pages of the novel, however, and not only did I read those last fifty pages in a single sitting, but when I was done with them, I turned the pages back and read them again -- TWICE.

It's a rare thing to come across a novel that is so full of sentences that make me pause -- even rarer to come across one that is so full of sentences that make me pause and then get out a pen so I can jot them down. Since college, I've kept a notebook into which I write down things from books I've read that made me think or that impressed me in some way (grammatically, emotionally, whateverly). In the last few years, though, I've barely written anything in that notebook. I read too much crap these days, I guess.

By the time I'd turned to the last page of this novel, on the other hand, I'd written what seemed like half the last fifty pages down in my notebook. It started with the line, "All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more goin out the door" (a line that struck me particularly intensely because of some things I've been going through myself lately), and it pretty much didn't stop until the very last sentence. Oddly enough, that last sentence is, "And then I woke up," a line that typically infuriates me when it comes at the end of anything, but here made me literally gasp with pleasure. (It's not that kind of "And then I woke up," by the way.)

In any case, it was two full days before I could pick up another book after I finally put this one down. I wasn't done chewing on it and I found couldn't focus on anything else. Thankfully, that gave me just enough time to track down McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and now that I'm about a hundred pages into that one, I can safely say I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Highly, HIGHLY recommended! [comment on this book review]

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