blood meridian

"You judge a book by its cover but it's more like breathing than judging" is what Carson was thinking.

"The cover is the book because almost the instant you stop reading, the book becomes an object again. So a book had better look good because, like a high school athlete, its time as a thing of action, fully alive in your consciousness, is fleeting compared to the vast stretches it will spend unnoticed and unable to express itself."

He called his friend Moshy who as usual was having none of it at first, eating chocolate chips and drinking whiskey. But then he said, "Take me, I'm just finishing Blood Meridian-- drinking whiskey and finishing Cormac McCarthy's bloodbath of a book."

"That's cowboys, right? The Peckinpah of American fiction?" says Carson.

"Blood Meridian is the mother of all the McCarthy westerns, a poem to the manliest of emotions: love-hate. McCarthy probably only vaguely understands how much he loves the terrible things in his books. The book is all how European-America in its westward expansion was the ineluctably genocidal result of fully extended western thought and tradition, where everything alive must be destroyed in order to be understood, where the power to dominate is the only power imaginable. This thing is over the top utterly, a satire almost of itself, of the author's ambitions for it and of McCarthy's personal obsessions..."

He could hear Moshy drinking and thinking, chewing the cookies. "Almost a satire," says Carson into the air.

"Yeah almost but not. I was a reluctant reader of this book but I think it's one of these singular works of art, one born of the confluence of the particular talent of McCarthy with the particular subject matter with the particular ambition and the practice and the readership and the point to make, all of that coming together-- the almost freak confluence setting it apart from most other creative things by just that much, whatever amount that is, regardless of whether or not you personally go for it, you know?

"And here's the thing, to get back to your point… I'm having this readerly experience, right, taken away over the centuries and into the desert and so on, and I can't get over the fact that the cover is bad. The book's a Vintage International and Vintage International is always great, the books always looking like a pleasure to read, always understated, dignified but accessible, even hip... But no, they fucked up Blood Meridian. There's a smallish photo of a lone tiny rider against a southwestern landscape in muted tones-- not quite pastels, but as I say, muted. The title remember is Blood Meridian. What's muted about that? That's about as descriptive colorwise as you can get. And those words appear in gold cursive. It's just all wrong, like the book is Jane Austen in New Mexico, terrible. Nothing about the cover is bold. It's corny where it should be imaginative, which is not the thing with this book at all. They had to think big, as big as the landscape and the crimes committed there, big like the error of Manifest Destiny and of the modern age by extension, big as the ambition and voice of the work, a twentieth-century Old Testament… At the same time, the book is American and about the west, so it must speak to all of these things as economically as possible. There must be nothing that hints at finery or frivolity in any way. No silly cursive..."

"So what did you have in mind?" says Carson.

"What you need is hideous beauty, and outsized. Carnage is what I'm talking about. But not bodies directly because it's a story about how a way of thinking was the root of the violence, how the thinking rippled across the ages down into one killing field after the next, each one a triumph in blood and guts over the last. So why not draw on someone who has done the same thing visually? That would be the thing, to get visual art that makes a bold statement about the murderous tragedy of modernism. Right?"

"Of course," says Carson. "You had me thinking of Okeefe, before the blood and guts, but no, then someone making sculpture out of junk in the desert, but then I thought that person was a Don Delillo character and not a real artist..."

"Carson it has got to be Ed Burtynsky, his box-camera wide-angle nickel tailings running like chemical rivers or his desolate Uranium dump fields, the poisoned beautiful legacy of the last three hundred years, our doomed future. This is the man. You put that on the cover and the words "Blood Meridian" in semi thick type and set the whole thing against the usual Vintage International black and the book suddenly is up for like Chip Kidd-quality rave reviews and awards. People who would never read the book would read it and love it. It'd be bigger than Dave Eggers, man, like Steven King numbers, Carson."

"Ed Burtynsky... Moshy are you-- who are you going to call to make this dream a reality?"

"No, no. This is not my book," says Moshy, suddenly deflated. "You're mocking me. What kind of a man mocks a drunk McCarthy-reading friend in a late-night, you know, revelry? What did I come here for?"

23 August 2006