Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Odds and ends

I've not posted in a few days due to a quick weekend trip to Topeka and Kansas City to, respectively, visit Mrs. Meridian's parents and go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with my Humanities class. And, for those of you breathlessly awaiting the Meridian's next post, that may be a while in coming as well: after this weekend the Meridians will be moving a bit northwest to a new place here in Wichita, downtown and on the Arkansas (for you non-Kansans, that's pronounced "Are-KAN-sas" here and not "ARE-kan-saw") River. That will involve some painting at the new place (the mantra has been, "We are NOT afraid of color"), so this post might be the last one for a while.
In the meantime, I thought I'd write a couple of thoughts about McCarthy's new novel and some new (to me) music.
In this post, you may recall, I happily announced the news of Cormac McCarthy's new novel, No Country for Old Men. Last week I bought it and read it, mostly, over the weekend. I will most likely have more to say about this novel later, so I'll save a more detailed discussion for then.
What first strikes me about it is its very spare language. No rhapsodic descriptions of landscape that so many readers and reviewers identify with McCarthy's earlier work. Here, landscape isn't another character but a nearly-blank stage, thus making this novel more reminiscent of Hemingway than of Faulkner. Thus, this is one of those kind of books that, like Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, feels slight as you're reading it but, as you think about it, grows, ripple-like, in its range and concerns. It FEELS like All the Pretty Horses, in that its concerns seem rather local, limited pretty much to the characters we meet. But upon reflection, it becomes much bigger than that: a meditation, via this story about the violence surrounding the drug trade along the Texas-Mexico border, on how respect for human life has become so cheapened that, as a sheriff says, some of the people they're dealing with don't merely disrespect the law, "they don't even think about it." In that regard, then, the book resembles Blood Meridian--though it lacks that novel's grandiloquent language. The absence of that language focuses the reader's attention on dialogue, and McCarthy here, as always, is a master of cadence and dialect (he's not a native of Texas but, after about 20 years of living there, his ear is now so unerring that it's as though he's just writing down the things said by people I grew up listening to).
Best pithy self-assessment by a character: "There is no description of a fool that you do not fail to satisfy."
All this is a long-winded way of saying that, though a bit different stylistically for McCarthy, this novel is a worthy addition to his body of work.
Now on to music. For some time, as I have browsed the world music bins at music stores, I've been aware of Radio Tarifa and was very curious to hear what their blend of medieval, Spanish, and north African musics might sound like. Well, having already picked out the new McCarthy novel and it being payday and all, I decided to buy their first album, Rumba argelina. Played on traditional instruments (with an occasional electric bass and guitar), this music has real verve and, given the ostensibly very different musics that serve as its reference points, fascinating song structures whose directions, even after several listens, you have trouble predicting. Even though Nonesuch is rather stingy with the lengths of its samples, they give you enough of "La canal" to get a sense of what I mean. Because these are all modal, they have a floating quality to them; they stick with you precisely because they aren't rooted in chords. Evocative of a truly diverse corner of Europe, seeming old without seeming dusty.
That's all for now. Thanks as always for visiting and reading.

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