Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, a Book Review in Three Parts

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Rating:  ★★★

PART I: Initial Feelings

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow.”

Guess who’s feeling extra grouchy after a string of two and three star books and one DNF.

This girl.

I’m going to take it out on this novel because I’m so professional (sarcasm) and my review on this book at this point in time is basically totally meaningless because it’s already an American classic.  I think.

Anyway- I picked this up because it’s one of the more well known westerns out there, and I’d been craving something western since I started playing Red Dead Redemption way back in October 2018.

Dios mio, I could not have picked something farther removed from that. (On the bright side- my spanish hasn’t been this good since 10th grade.)

“Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.”

The writing is dazzling, but the style borders on insanity and takes a special kind of focus to decipher.  These sentences run on for DAYS.  The vocabulary is difficult, and when mixed with the vernacular it has a tendency to induce mind numbing levels of frustration.  There are no quotation marks to mark dialogue either, but that proved to be less of an issue as I became accustomed to it.

For all the flowery description and beautiful scenery, I felt like I never had any idea where the characters were.  I guess this is largely because they probably didn’t have any idea where they were, wandering the desert as they did, but it was confusing.  Also, at one point it was snowing and I thought they were in a desert.  Does this happen IRL?  Soon after they were on a mountain, but I swear they started in a desert.

“I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”

Cormac McCarthy could teach Stephen King a thing or two about violence.  I totally didn’t read the blurb (my own fault), but I thought this was going to be about gangs robbing banks and trains and stuff.  It was about gangs scalping Native Americans, Mexicans, and generally anyone who got in their way. It was pretty awful.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I really need to pay better attention to what I pick up.

Trigger/content warnings: if you have them, please stay very far away from this book. Far, far away.

Side note:  Has anyone read The Road?  I wanted to read that one too, but now I’m thinking maybe not.

“War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

What else?  Hmm… despite all the things that didn’t work there were some *fun* bar fight scenes I enjoyed.  Aside from how they ended a lot of them felt like that fantastic scene where Lenny and Arthur go drinking together and chaos ensues.  They ended much bloodier but when you’ve seen a gang commit what is basically genocide, the bar scenes seemed like small potatoes.

And I think that’s all I have to say that.  I don’t recommend it, and I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting McCarthy’s work in the future.  (I’m reneging on this.  I think I’ll definitely visit his work in the future.  I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I didn’t know could handle it.)

Oh yeah- I forgot about the Epilogue.  WTF was that about?  Please blogger friends, dazzle me with your brilliance.  Clearly I was not worthy.

PART II: In Retrospect

“What joins men together is not the sharing of bread but sharing of enemies.”

Here’s the deal.  I wrote this review almost directly after I finished reading it over a week ago.  I initially gave it two stars and was pretty salty about the whole thing.  I’m sorry because I know some of you were looking forward to the review, so please know that was not a proud moment for me.

I don’t regret anything I said above (which is why I’ve left it), but this book has stuck with me. There are many possible interpretations of this novel.  A couple that I looked up: Blood Meridian satirizes the classic American western novel, is a “savage indictment of Manifest Destiny”, is nihilistic, and also “eludes all interpretation”* (all of these were taken directly from the book’s wikipedia page).

I keep turning it over and over again trying to solve the puzzle and looking for answers, and I don’t think that feeling is going to go away any time soon.  So I’m bumping the rating up to three stars with the caveat that it really probably deserves far more than that, but I’d need to re-read it to be sure, and for now I need a break. (My thoughts on this continued in Part III.)

“[He] lurched into the street vowing to shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch.”

In trying to decipher the puzzle that is Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, I stumbled across this article, which talks about McCarthy’s sense of humor.  And you know what?  It’s true.  He really is funny.  Sick.  But funny.  There were plenty of times I wanted to laugh out loud, and then stopped myself because I thought the content of the book was really awful, and even worse it really happened, so laughing out loud would make me a terrible person.  Still, I wanted to laugh.

One last struggle I had with the book and didn’t mention above, is that the book needed better transitional scenes.  I figured out very late in the game that the chapter headings/titles are acting as the transitions.  If you give this a go, read the chapter headings, memorize them.  They help organize the structure and sense of place.

PART III: ENDING SPOILERS DISCUSSION

“All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.”

I don’t normally include spoilers, but I think it makes an interesting discussion and given that it’s a pretty widely known and read book, I don’t feel terrible about including them.  You have been warned. (This section written was part of my original review, and added on to later.)

I’m insanely annoyed at the ambiguity of what happened to the Kid (and the ambiguity in general).  I’ve read the theories that he was raped.  Honestly- those make no sense to me.  Let’s do the math.  The kid was estimated to be 14 in 1849.  His last known sighting happens in 1878.  Thirty years later.  He would have been about 43.  The Judge on the other hand, given all his traveling (which okay, might have been a lie) and education, I imagined to be 30/40 in 1849.  Thirty years later he’d have been 60 or 70.  Are we really arguing that a 60 or 70 year old man with the health care available in 1878 would have been able to overpower an otherwise healthy 43 year old?  Really?!

I’m more inclined to believe it was consensual due to past abuse we didn’t see when he was a boy/teen (either by the Judge or the Kid’s father).  That being said I imagine the Kid is dead due to what the casual side-character observances say about the jake (which is apparently a word for outhouse, I always thought it was slang for cops, this lead to admittedly hilarious confusion in retrospect). The Kid being dead really pisses me off.  It pissed me off more than Ned Stark pissed me off.  I needed the Judge to get justice.  I needed a shred of hope in this terribly dark and depressing story.

Aside from that- I’m not really sure what it’s even supposed to symbolize.  The Judge is often described as a seven foot tall, completely bald baby (maybe symbolizes America given it’s relative ‘newness’ as a country, or possibly greed and capitalism because of his actions). The Kid could represent progress (he does eventually become ‘the Man’) or reason because despite his violent actions, I got the sense throughout it was only under provocation.  Maybe we’re inferring that greed and capitalism will always trump reason or hinder progress?  I just don’t know.

“All progressions from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage.”

I wrote above about the meaning of this novel and how I’m still trying to piece it together.  I think there is a strong argument there that it’s some great joke McCarthy has played on the literary community, and it really is meaningless… but if I had to pick a meaning, it would be that violence is senseless.

This book bounces from violent annihilation of entire villages, to our protagonists dying of thirst in the desert, and being saved by those same exact people they would have otherwise raped, killed and scalped.  Most of the Glanton gang dies in the end, not much better off than they started, still desert wanderers, despite the massive amounts of gold and weapons they have acquired.  So not only was there little-to-no benefit (they drank most of the gold away, there isn’t much to spend gold on in the desert), but they largely orchestrated their own downfall.  And this interpretation still doesn’t sit right with me.

If you have read the book, I would love to know what you think happened in the end or what you took away from the novel.

“He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”

 

 

 

Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

I did it!  I finally read something else by Mark Lawrence!  Don’t ask why it took so long.  I don’t have a good answer for you.

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

I don’t know how I feel about this blurb… I picked this up free as part of Kindle’s First Reads program.  The selling point for me was the author.  For some authors, it just doesn’t matter what they write, you’ll read it anyway.  And despite the lack of Lawrence books in my read pile- I admire him as an author and as a person.  He was one of the first authors I followed on both GoodReads and Twitter.  He’s always helping out other self pub’d authors, and just generally seems like a good guy.

Anyway- onto the book.  I’ll start by saying I have no idea how D&D is played.  I (now) know it involves dice and a game master and the occasional prop, but I had a hard time picturing everything else. Is there a game board?  Who writes the snippets everyone reads?  It was kind of neat but I spent a lot of time going: huh? what? why?  I think D&D fans will get a lot more out of this book than I did.

Onto the science- anytime quantum mechanics/physics/mathematics was brought up, I tuned out.  It’s so far beyond anything I’m able to twist my head around, I couldn’t even begin to fathom it.  Much like the D&D stuff, I think people who have some understanding of it, will get more out of this than I did.

One Word Kill is super dark.  Do not mistake the protagonists being teenagers to mean that this is a YA book.  I think it’s anything but, and a lot of the topics here are things I tend to avoid in my reading when the setting is not historical or fantastical (drugs, terminal illness, gangs).  The antagonist is deranged and any time he came up I found myself cringing/shivering/shuddering.

I adored the characters and their relationships with each other.  They feel like real (smart) every day teens, just trying to get through their day without losing their lunch money or embarrassing themselves.  I think I found Simon the most relatable- he’s introverted, smart and straightforward in his dealings, but there was something to love about the whole gang.  They all had their own struggles, and one refreshing thing was that the parents are all pretty supportive of their kids.

The plot is twisting and turning, amping up the crazy with every chapter.  I’m not going to say much about it- because it’s better experienced first hand.  But I will say I did feel like there were some plot holes here and there.  The book is super quick (200 pages) so it’s possible I needed to be reading more between the lines than I was, but I’m not entirely sure that was the case.  I almost wonder if the book could have used a few more pages to make everything really come together and feel complete.

That being said I was totally shattered by the ending, and it’s always good when a book can make me feel something.  I am curious to see what this is all leading toward, so I will definitely be continuing with the series!

One Word Kill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

So the past few weeks I’ve had a craving to read something similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I think Amy Dunne’s character, despicable as she is, is absolutely brilliant.  Maybe you read the book and found her intolerable, but there’s no doubt that anyone who did read it was left feeling some type of way about Amy.  To me, that’s the hallmark of a great character.

I stumbled across Sometimes I Lie at the B&N book sale.  I’d seen it around during release time, but didn’t know much about it.  I wasn’t sure Amber Reynolds was the Amy Dunne character I was hoping for, but I am so glad I took a chance on it.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Rating:  ★★★★

Here’s the hook:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Okay so there’s more to that blurb, but when I was looking at the cover at the store I read that much before I put it in my basket.  I love everything about the premise.  From the beginning, you already know you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator, but is she telling little white lies?  Or is she telling a whopper?

The book starts simply but sinister enough.  Amber is in a hospital bed.  She can hear the nurses talking, but she is unable to respond.  She’s trapped in her own body.  She was in a car accident, and she can’t remember what happened.  It’s Christmas, her husband is MIA, and no one has reported her missing.  

The setup of Amber being aware but unable to respond created a genius opportunity for the author to tease the reader with snippets of conversation from the people in the hospital room, nurses talking about her condition, her husband talking to her sister, people talking about Amber without realizing she can hear them…  but then someone will administer medicine, or Amber will fade out, and you never catch the rest of the conversation.  The opportunity was not wasted, although I guess one could argue that the timing of Amber drifting in and out of an aware state makes the suspense feel a little forced. (I didn’t personally feel that way- but I could see it feeling that way to others.)

There are three different timelines to follow, the present timeline in the hospital, the past timeline leading up to the accident, and the distant past from Amber’s childhood.  All along the way little suspenseful incidents keep happening, a stranger visits Amber’s room at night, Amber’s boss threatens to fire her, etc.  Amber does have a few deliciously wicked Amy Dunne moments (and I reveled in every single one of them), but once the twists start coming, it feels like every other chapter reveals another piece of the puzzle.

Each chapter takes you one step closer to the answer, while also feeling like it’s taking you one step farther away.  There is absolutely nothing about this book that you will see coming.  I wasn’t even able to guess.  The whole book was just one big, wtf is going on here? kind of moment.

I read this all in one night. I could literally not put it down.  The only thing keeping this from being a full five star read- is that the full picture does feel pretty far fetched.. but it’s so much fun it hardly matters.  If you like dark thrillers- definitely check out Sometimes I Lie!  I’ll be on the lookout for other work from this author in the future.

Sometimes I Lie can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating:  ★★★★

Release Date: May 28th, 2019

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 105 pages

I absolutely loved this novella from the moment I picked it up to the moment I put it down. It starts out very light. The protagonist is a funny guy. He’s lost on an alien artifact humans have been calling “the Crypts.”

The story is told in two timelines, present and past. The past timeline outlines how he came to be lost in the Crypts and tells us a little about the state of the world before he left earth. In the present, he’s wandering the Crypts encountering all manner of alien life.

The writing was very good. I enjoyed the stream of consciousness style here, and that isn’t always my thing. Tchaikovsky employed it very well. This was a context in which it made sense, and it was easy to follow. Another note about the writing, the present timeline is written in present tense. I know for some readers that can be an issue, but I enjoyed it and thought it brought an added level of excitement to the story.

The pace, initially, is ambling. There are a few exciting things happening, but what drew me in was the humor. Gary Rendell is just a guy you want to hang out with. There are some definite elements of horror, but they were balanced well with the humor. As we near the end the tone becomes darker and darker. Nothing is what it seems.

I have a feeling some of the science in this science fiction has no foundation in reality (disclaimer, I know nothing about physics), but there were several fun little nods to biology. Rendell comments on the way the various aliens are formed and how and why they might have developed that way and I thought it was a nice way to flesh out the MC. There were also a few nods to human psychology, and those passages were some of my favorites.

Overall I thought it was inventive and creative. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy elements of horror with their science fiction or fans of Tchaikovsky’s other work.

Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris for providing me with an eARC to review.

Walking to Aldebaran can be found on GoodReads and preordered on Amazon.