Nicholas E. Barron

Words in many mediums

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Why Blood Meridian is the Masterpiece of a Genius Artist

Not long into reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth: grit. Yes, the grit and sand covering the land and characters of Blood Meridian are all over you, too. It’s on your tongue, in your pores, and coating your clothes.

You don’t read Blood Meridian. You experience it, every dirty, bloody, nasty bit of the book.

A talented novelist makes you believe their fictional world is real. McCarthy does this in Blood Meridian as well as any writer.

It doesn’t matter if McCarthy didn’t live in 1849 when the book is set. Or that Hollywood Westerns could have been some of his source material for the book. What matters is that you believe the place and people in Blood Meridian are real.

You believe this so much that you feel every paragraph of desperation and fear and violence that echoes like a gunshot in a canyon throughout McCarthy’s book.

This is probably one reason why authors such as Stephen King and Rachel Kushner cite the book as one of their favorites. A writer reading Blood Meridian is an apostle in the presence of their savior.

Another reason practitioners of writing often laud Blood Meridian could be McCarthy’s manipulation of the English language.

It’s as if McCarthy is the boy with the spoon in “The Matrix”. The boy bends a spoon by looking at it. He explains, “Only try to realize the truth…There is no spoon.”Image of the quote from Blood Meridian, "If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?".

McCarthy doesn’t adhere to standards of grammar, punctuation, or definitions. He instead uses words however he needs to tell his story. He is able to bend the language because to him it isn’t a language. It’s a vehicle to his story.

Take this passage, for example: “All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.”

This is a sentence. It contains English, words you understand. But they’re adeptly sewn together in ways unimaginable to most of us. Pieced together phrases such as this make Blood Meridian a masterful work of art. The book is a classic.

Overview of Blood Meridian

Setting: Blood Meridian mostly takes place in Texas, Mexico, and the American Southwest in 1849-1850.

Main Characters:

  • The kid – Protagonist; A runaway teenager from Tennessee, The kid makes it to Texas. He eventually falls in with a gang led by Glanton. The kid is an antihero. He’s no saint, but he does show small amounts of compassion and decency throughout the book.
  • The Judge – Antagonist; He’s a psychopath that comes across as nearly supernatural. He has no conscience and shows no remorse. He seems omnipotent and unstoppable.
  • Glanton – Leader of the gang, he’s nearly as mean and violent as The Judge. But he’s not quite as smart. If The Judge is Satan, Glanton would be his right-hand demon. The character is loosely based on the real-life John Joel Glanton.
  • Toadvine – A character The kid meets that puts him on the path to joining The Judge and Glanton’s group.
  • Tobin – An ex-priest, is a paradox. He maintains some religious beliefs while killing and committing crimes alongside the rest of the gang.
  • David Brown – He wears a necklace made of human ears. That gives you an accurate picture of this character’s makeup.

Plot: The kid runs away from home and ends up in Texas. He meets Toadvine, a relationship that leads both to join Glanton’s gang. The gang is hired by Mexican authorities to hunt Apaches. The gang journeys north and west across Mexico, killing and plundering as they go. They work their way to present-day California and Arizona. The gang takes over a ferry crossing on the Colorado River, a move that ends disastrously for most of the gang.

Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West Book Cover Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West
Cormac McCarthy

Based on incidents that took place in the southwestern United States and Mexico around 1850, this novel chronicles the crimes of a band of desperados, with a particular focus on one, "the kid," a boy of fourteen

Here’s Why Americanah is the Book We Should All Read

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is an immigrant story. But it may not be the immigrant story you expect. Image of a quote from Americanah reading "In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds—class, ideology, region, and race."

You could say immigrants are having a bit of a moment right now. Seemingly a week cannot pass without the President of the United States saying something about immigrants. And then there’s that whole wall thing.

Of course, Adichie wrote Americanah before the current debate about immigration. The book published in 2013.

And the story is about immigrants from Nigeria, not Mexico or Central America. The story focuses on Ifemelu and Obinze. They began dating in high school. While in college, both try to come to the U.S.

One succeeds, moving to the U.S. This eventually ends Obinze’s and Ifemelu’s relationship. Much of the book is about what did, and what will happen between the two of them.

But as most good books go, there’s more to Americanah than the surface-level story.

The Real Story of Americanah

Americanah is an immigration story. Through Adichie’s sharp, descriptive storytelling we experience what it’s like immigrating to the United States and England.

It’s fascinating, if not infuriating, how citizens of the characters new countries treat the immigrants.

Upon first meeting one of the characters, an American says: “’What a beautiful name…Does it mean anything? I love multicultural names because they have such wonderful meanings, from wonderful rich cultures.'”

You read this and see the rudeness, the ignorance of the American’s words. But then you realize you’ve probably said something similar. Many of us do. We say things like this often out of good intent. We want the recipient of our words to know we’re accepting, open to different cultures.

But when we view our actions from the immigrant’s side, we see how even our best intentions fall short.

Which is why Americanah is a book we all should read. We need to see through an immigrant’s eyes. And not just any immigrant, but an immigrant offering observations on race in America.Image of a quote from Americanah reading "her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out."

These observations, scattered throughout the book and often expressed through blog posts Ifemelu publishes, help the book excel.

Americanah’s Resurgence

Americanah was a recent addition to my books to read in 2017 list. I added it after spending a snowy President’s Day Weekend with a friend who was reading the book every chance she got.

This friend is someone whose book recommendations I trust. We have similar book taste profiles. She reads books that matter, so when she spoke highly of Americanah, I knew I had to read it.

This happened shortly after the book was selected for the One Book, One New York program. Out of five books that were nominated, Americanah was the majority’s choice.

The program makes available a free audiobook of Americanah and numerous events are planned in New York City through May. A culminating, celebratory event will take place June 1. Here’s a list of One Book, One New York events.

It’s clear the book is having a resurgence. And for good reason. We should all read Americanah.

Americanah Book Cover Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
May 14, 2013

One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick. A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. From the Trade Paperback edition.