No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

For Insiders, my recaps of the drafts for all 15 NL teams and all 15 AL teams are up, as well as my round one reactions and a post-draft Klawchat.

David Hadley Chase was a prolific British author of American crime fiction, writing numerous novels (under this pseudonym) that were, for the time, controversial for their graphic violence and implied sexual content. His first novel, the grim No Orchids for Miss Blandish, remains his best-known work, and it’s just $1.29 for the Kindle through that link (or just £4.99 in the UK). It’s gripping despite an almost nihilistic view of its characters, the rare story where the venal criminals are more compelling characters than the hard-boiled detective attempting to find them. George Orwell was a fan of the writing, but Raymond Chandler was not, calling it “half-cent pulp writing at its worst” in a letter to Cleve Adams. (Chandler later won a lawsuit against Chase, accusing the latter of plagiarizing a section of a later book.)

Miss Blandish is the heiress at the center of a theft and ransom kidnapping plot that involves two different groups of crooks, the latter, the notorious Grissom Gang (reminiscent in many ways of the Australian Pettingill family), run by a sociopathic matriarch and her mentally challenged, ultra-violent son Slim. Their plan is to steal her new diamond necklace, collect a ransom for her from her wealthy father, and then dispose of her rather than risk her identifying them … but then Slim takes a fancy to her, complicating their plans even after they get their money and try to use it to run a slightly more legitimate business.

Miss Blandish’s father hires reporter-turned-private detective Dave Fenner to try to track his daughter down several months after he’s paid the ransom without any word on her whereabouts or even whether she’s alive, and Fenner – about as cliched a detective character as you’ll ever find – uses his knowledge of the town’s underworld to find the one lead police didn’t uncover. Chase spends most of his energy and the bulk of the verbiage on the interactions between Slim Grissom, his mother, and the other dissolute members of their gang, including how they respond once it becomes clear that their faĉade of respectability in their new venture has been cracked.

The violence in the book is par for the course for the era, although No Orchids was apparently one of the first to raise the violence to this level; I don’t enjoy violence for its own sake, but to paint the picture of the Grissom gang as unrepentant and likely sociopathic killers, the violence serves a literary purpose. Less necessary and much harder to stomach is the largely off-screen rape of Miss Blandish by Slim, repeated over a period of months. When Fenner finally finds her near the end of the book, however, all of the dialogue seems to indicate that there is no recovery from this sort of trauma, both from the extent of the crimes committed and from the shame of being a victim of kidnap and a presumed rape. It’s true to its era, but fortunately we live in an era that is both more enlightened and better equipped to help trauma victims recover from their ordeals, which gave the novel’s resolution a very antiquated and somewhat misogynistic flavor. A female author would never have written this ending – or at least I’d like to think one wouldn’t. (For the record, I don’t agree with either of Orwell’s interpretations of the ending; I think he’s ignored or dismissed a third possibility, that the motive was shame.) However, for fans of noir fiction, No Orchids offers a swift, exceptionally dark take on the genre, one where the payoff is less important than the way there.

Django Unchained.

I was busy yesterday, with a Klawchat and the Baseball Today podcast, the latter featuring my interview with Nate Silver, who denies being a witch. Those followed my ranking of the top 25 players under 25, which went up yesterday morning and requires an Insider membership.

I went into Django Unchained with somewhat limited expectations: I’m not a Tarantino fanboy by any stretch, and the two most frequent comments I’d heard about this film were that it was too long and too violent. It is violent, although nearly all of it is of the cartoonish variety, with just one scene that I would have cropped or eliminated. It’s long at 165 minutes, but aside from that one scene there’s virtually no fat to trim. It’s also clever, funny, sentimental almost to sappiness, righteously angry, and borderline absurd – a glorious alternate-history revenge fantasy that lacks the broad scope of Inglorious Basterds‘ vengeance but gives us the titular character as a stronger protagonist to exact retribtution on behalf of his race.

Django (a perpetually seething Jamie Foxx) begins the movie in chains, one of a group of recently-purchased slaves who are being led through a dark, dare-I-say mysterious forest by two white brothers, when they are miraculously intercepted by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who scored a Best Supporting Actor nod for the role), a dentist-turned-bounty-hunter who, as it happens, is looking specifically for Django. His incredible fortune in finding this caravan without a GPS is never quite explained, nor is the fact that Django, who ends up joining Schultz in the bounty-hunting business, is a preternaturally accurate shot with virtually any sort of firearm.

The two hunt down a few targets before turning to the task of rescuing Django’s wife Brunhilda (Kerry Washington, who has two jobs, to look pretty and act scared, and does fairly well at both) from the unctuous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, chewing scenery like it’s a cud). Candie likes to buy and train slaves for “Mandingo fighting,” a human equivalent to cockfighting with no historical basis in fact but which is named as an allusion to the 1975 blaxploitation film Mandingo, which Tarantino has cited as a favorite of his. (He also honors another blaxploitation film with Brunhilda’s white surname, Von Schaft.) Django and Schultz claim to be slavers interested in buying a slave for use in Mandingo fighting, all as a pretense for seeing and buying Brunhilda on the cheap. Only the head house-slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, playing this traitor to his race to the hilt), has any inkling that something is amiss.

Tarantino has figured out the way to tell a good slavery joke: Make the white people involved the joke’s targets. The various slaveowners and white lackeys are all odious in various ways, but Tarantino infuses them with comic weaknesses that he proceeds to exploit, most successfully in the absurd scene where a Klan raid breaks down because the white bags they are using as masks have eyeholes that don’t allow the riders to see properly. Quick yet florid dialogue that is obviously absurd yet can sound real enough to work for the audience is a difficult trick to pull off, yet Django‘s dialogue never broke that suspension of disbelief for me, and Tarantino’s script concludes with a flurry of self-referential lines that build on the humor of the first times the lines were delivered.

That same suspension of disbelief didn’t quite hold as well for the violence, largely because Tarantino appears to believe that human bodies are 98% blood, with perhaps some sort of light exoskeleton that keeps us from turning into landlocked jellyfish. Aside from one murder near the film’s end that evoked raucous laughter in the theater – I’m including myself in that – the extent of the splattering was a distraction, and appeared to be Tarantino just exuding in the fact that, yeah, he can take a tense shootout and make it so gross that it breaks the tension because the splashes are louder than the gunshots. The non-gun violence in the film was more disturbing and generally more effective at ratcheting up our hatred for the white folk Django will eventually target, because of the degree to which this violence, from torture to murder, shows the extent to which these whites view blacks as something less than human.

Tarantino’s last film made Nazis its targets, because, of course, who doesn’t love watching a Nazi get what’s coming to him? With slavery and racism at the heart of Django, however, Tarantino wanders into more dangerous emotional territory with the film’s heavy use of the n-word and with the depiction of some blacks as complicit in their own subjugation. The use of what is today a nasty racial epithet but was, in 1858-59, a common term for African-Americans, didn’t bother me because it is grounded in historical accuracy; I don’t want to see the term removed from Huckleberry Finn or the wandering Jew scrubbed from The Scarlet Pimpernel either, because they are monuments to the racial or ethnic attitudes of their times. But I imagine the role of Stephen as a black slave who, in return for privileges he’s been granted by a serious of owners, takes on the role of overseer of the house slaves, betraying his race and contributing to institutionalized racism, will make many viewers uncomfortable, even as it becomes clear that Stephen is doing so not from ignorance but from a clear strategy of self-preservation. Candie even delivers a speech in the film that argues that blacks didn’t fight back because of neurological inferiority, but we can dismiss that as the outdated racialist thinking of one of the film’s most hateful characters. Stephen is much harder to hand-wave away.

Waltz’ performance as Dr. Schultz could very easily win him his second Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, and his character has the most difficult development in the film, with subtle changes in his attitudes toward slavery from academic detachment to emotional involvement that lead to the film’s slam-bang finish. Foxx’s barely-contained rage gains articulacy through the film, but as strong as his performance was, it had a hint of one-note to it that might explain why he was overlooked in the Best Actor category. DiCaprio, normally such a strong actor in any sort of role, brings a bizarre flamboyancy to the role, starting with the overplayed deep-south accent and continuing with the vaguely incestuous flirting with his widowed sister, herself a cipher of a character despite a fair amount of screen time. Jackson worked with the most difficult material as Stephen, the Uncle Tom of the Candie estate (unironically referred to as “Candieland”), and he dominates most of his scenes between his stentorian delivery, impossible to hide even behind his character’s duplicitous yes-massah stammerings, and a glare so searing that it at one point reduces Brunhilda to tears. His appearance in the film’s second half transforms the movie from straight revenge fantasy to a somewhat more complex study of slavery through a conflict between African-American characters, one that doesn’t delivery any answers but provides a thought-provoking component to the film that would have been absent had we just been following Django around on a justified killing spree.

Revenge fantasies themselves, given the proper targets, can be superficially satisfying but will lack any kind of staying power beyond the closing credits and can leave the viewer feeling slightly empty the way he might after, say, wiping out a package of Oreos. I have little interest in a straight exploitation film, which I feared Django might be based on some early word-of-mouth, especially regarding the copious quantities of blood involved, but the film was both far funnier and more incisive than I anticipated. Tarantino could have stuck with cartoon violence and avoided any hints at the barbarism of slavery, but he took the hard way, with various scenes of brutal treatment, all presented without the sensationalism of the shootouts and made more effective through that contrast. The camera lingers on bodies spurting a quart of blood for every bullet, but when a slave is branded, the scene is truncated, and when a slave is torn apart by dogs, it’s shown so obliquely that the violence is largely implied – and those latter scenes are the ones that matter. Only the fight scene between the two “Mandingos” broke this rule, and deserved a major edit, but otherwise Django makes excellent use of its running length to entertain its audience in a thoughtful way.

Looper.

I loved Rian Johnson’s debut film, the neo-noir detective story Brick, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a precocious student trying to solve a murder in his cliquey, drug-addled high school, a film driven by punctuated, subtle dialogue, riding instead on the film’s core mystery and the tremendous charisma Gordon-Levitt brought to the lead role. Johnson’s newest film, the time-travel action flick Looper, also stars Gordon-Levitt, and once again leans heavily on how much he can bring to a role in which his lines are limited and his character’s personality is understated. But where Brick aimed fairly small, an indie film paying homage to a genre by nearly parodying it, Looper aimes huge, tackling standard time-travel conundrums while also getting after some of the general moral questions that a time-travel storyline will inevitably pose.

Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a “looper” who, in the year 2044, serves as a hit man for a crime syndicate that sends targets back from the year 2074 – in which year time travel has been invented and made illegal, so it’s only used by organized crime groups. A looper stands at an isolated place, blunderbuss in hand, and the moment a bound and gagged victim winks into their present time, blows him away. Eventually, the future employers will end the contract by sending the looper’s future self back, with gold bars strapped to his back (in lieu of the standard silver), “closing the loop.” As it turns out, the head of that crime syndicate in the future, known only as the Rainmaker, is closing all of the loops, so we know fairly early on that Joe will be confronted by his thirty-year-older self, played by Bruce Willis, and will, in one reality, let him live (since otherwise the movie would be more of a short film). As it turns out, Future Joe has reasons for wanting to come back, with eliminating the Rainmaker before he rises to power at the top of the list. Present Joe ends up in the middle of this battle, primarily opposed to his future self but conflicted by what remains of his conscience and by the fact that he’s pursued by the 2044 arm of the syndicate that employs him.

Time-travel stories in general are difficult to plot because of, no pun intended, the loops the writer must close: The connections between cause and effect are much more clearly laid out on screen, and loops left open or closed improperly are fodder for criticism and mockery from sharper viewers. Johnson’s script here limits the number of such loops he opens, and he’s extremely meticulous about maintaining the film’s internal logic, even at the risk of potentially clueing viewers in to the film’s eventual resolution. (Once it was over, I realized I’d missed one fairly strong clue.) This tight writing bears many other gifts for the viewer, such as the scene where Joe and his future self sit down for coffee and breakfast – left uneaten, which I have to say always annoys me when I see it on screen – in which Future Joe explains how he can remember Present Joe’s actions as they happen.

Emily Blunt is extremely compelling – not to mention incredibly gorgeous – in her supporting role as Sarah, the mother of one of the candidates on Future Joe’s hit list, and the woman who takes Present Joe in while he’s on the run from the syndicate. Five-year-old Pierce Gagnon is incredible in his role as Cid, Sarah’s son, articulate beyond most kids his age and able to manipulate his emotions as an adult actor would. Jeff Daniels is brilliant, by turns hilarious and menacing, as the syndicate’s main representative and local kingpin in 2044 – but one of his gunsels, played by Noah Segan (who played Dode in Brick), was mostly a waste of time, not developed enough to have an intriguing storyline, and scarcely necessary to the main plot. Piper Perabo plays a stripper because we just couldn’t have an action film unless there’s at least one woman walking around topless, and she’s maybe the fourth-best looking woman in the movie anyway. (Her character is about as irrelevant as Segan’s.) And there’s a fair amount of over-the-top violence across the film, which may seem like an odd complaint with a hit man and, well, the same hit man as the main characters, but when you see the movie you’ll probably know which parts I mean.

Looper has also spawned a fair amount of analysis online of its internal time-travel logic, with Johnson himself going on record (here and here) to discuss some of its mysteries, including the possible infinite loop created by the film’s ending. That kind of intensive commentary can be a function of poor writing, of course, but in this case I think it’s largely to Johnson’s credit that he can answer most of these questions and yet managed to leave so much extraneous material out of the film, helping maintain some of the mystery until the final fifteen minutes. What starts out as a psychological thriller branches out into both an action film and a morality story on the importance, of all things, of strong parenting, with enough suspense to keep you hooked even if you figure out some or all of where the film is going. It’s far more clever than your typical mainstream action or sci-fi movie, skipping the naked sentimentality of the similarly ambitious Inception without aiming any lower in its plot.

In Bruges.

You’ve probably seen my midseason prospect rankings update by now, but if not … there it is.

I’m a few weeks behind on this, but I watched the dark comedy In Bruges (currently just $4.69 on DVD at amazon) a few weeks ago on my last work flight. I’d seen positive reviews of the film when it was in theaters and kept it in my queue for years, but finally got back into watching movies regularly when I got an iPad last month and have a hell of a list to work through. As for In Bruges, it absolutely had its moments, driven mostly by a really strong performance by Colin Farrell, but by the end of the movie I was kind of wondering what the point of all the violence was – unless the point was that there is no point at all.

Farrell plays Ray, a young hit man who bungled his most recent job by accidentally killing a child who was hidden behind the man he was paid to assassinate. His boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), has sent him to Bruges along with the more experienced Ken to await instructions on their next job … which turns out to be for Ken to kill Ray over the death of the child. Ken wrestles with his conscience over the assignment now that he’s gotten to know Ray. Ray, meanwhile, is completely despondent over his mistake (but not over the death of the target) and contemplates suicide in between attempts to seduce the drug-dealing Chloe, an incompetent effort that leads to a confrontation with an American couple in a restaurant that, of course, ends up interfering with everyone’s plans. It is a screwball comedy at heart, except that in this one half the characters end up maimed or dead.

The strength of In Bruges is subtle, living in the layer beneath the obvious plot about contract killings and before the carnage at the end of the film. Ray isn’t cut out emotionally for his line of work, between his remorse and his short temper – and he absolutely hates Bruges, or as he calls it, “fookin’ Broozh.” Ken, meanwhile, wants to play the tourist, turning the trip (which was sold to them as an escape from the authorities) into a relaxing sojourn. Harry is a little bit of a stock character – the ruthless gangster/loving family man character has been around long enough that he’s totally expected – although his interactions with Ken when the latter refuses the assignment provide some of the film’s best dialogue.

When the shooting starts in earnest at the film’s end, though, we’re given a ten-minute stretch of action film where the plot is resolved through violence and a few funny coincidences, as well as a concluding meditation on the point of the violence that felt a little tacked-on. Within the span of those ten minutes, we go from that dark comedy to a chase-and-shoot (although, again, they do mix in a hilarious scene where Harry and Ray are standing off with a very angry and even more pregnant hotelier in between that) to light philosophy. Would the film have been better with a less violent climax? Or simply a more comic one? Shouldn’t the philosophizing have permeated more of the film (or did it, and I just missed it)? Most importantly, does it make any sense to say you enjoyed the first 90% of a film but not the ending when the ending was, in terms of plot, properly executed?

As for what’s next … I’ve got a long list of films to catch up on, but I’m open to suggestions. I’m particularly light on anything in the last five years – that is, since my daughter was born.

Fight Club.

Am I allowed to talk about Fight Clubicon?

This one has been sitting in the Netflix queue – which we don’t use enough anyway – for years, but I knew my wife would never watch it with me, and having seen it I have to say even if she’d consented she wouldn’t have stuck it out. Even I found some of the fight scenes tough to take, although I don’t see how you could make the film without it. The film is based on the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk.

As with The Big Lebowski, I’m assuming most of you have seen this before I did. The basic plot, for those of you who haven’t (and I’ll warn you I am going to largely spoil the ending below): Ed Norton’s unnamed narrator is a 1990s version of Camus’ Stranger, a white collar worker who exists to work and consume but has no emotional attachment to anything and suffers from insomnia. On a business trip, he meets the charismatic soap-maker Tyler Durden, and the two form an underground “fight club” that becomes a national movement for the disaffected, eventually morphing into an anarchistic terrorist group called Project Mayhem.

The inevitable first question will be whether I liked the movie; I did, and I didn’t. I think it tackled big themes, although I’m not sure how well it did in addressing them. Most of the film was riveting, but sometimes it was simultaneously revolting. Although the narrator has an everyman quality, the film never fully gets at the causes of his alienation from society – that alienation is a symptom, but of what we never begin to learn. It’s anchored by several terrific performances, even in some of the smaller parts. I thought the final scene was cheap. I thought the twist was clever, even if they gave it away earlier in the film.

I keep coming back to the question of what exactly Fight Club means, as I can’t accept this as just some anti-consumerist (did this film coin that term) manifesto that presents nihilism as an equally valid and equally abhorrent alternative. The film also tackles – sometimes literally – the question of reduced masculinity in late 20th century western civilization, from the narrator’s wandering into a support group for testicular cancer sufferers, where he befriends a man named Bob who has grown breasts as a result of his reduced testosterone levels. Through sheer violence and the spilling of blood, are the men in Fight Club suddenly self-actualized through a return to primitive roots?

The fact that Fight Club and particularly Project Mayhem seem more than anything else to attract disenfranchised men – it’s full of service-workers but seems very light on white-collar workers beyond the narrator – made me think perhaps there was an up-with-the-proletariat message, but the latter group’s all-black uniform seemed more Nazi than communist, and whether or not you agree with Marx’s views (I certainly don’t), his philosophy had an end beyond sheer destruction.

Another possibility was that Palahniuk was describing how numb we have become in a world where basic needs are taken for granted but emotional (or, although the subject barely comes up in the film, spiritual) needs are unfulfilled. The characters’ reactions to getting the tar kicked out of them reminded me of porn star Annabel Chong’s comment from the documentary on her, where she mutilates herself and says that she did it just to feel something (she’s later recanted, although the credibility of the later statement has to be questioned, but that’s another story entirely). They get hit, and they smile, because they felt something.

…spoilers below…

I didn’t think the big twist was that surprising. You can see Tyler Durden spliced into at least two early scenes where he flashes in and out for a frame, and it’s not like they didn’t give you a big fat clue about that. (Second clue: The scene where Ed Norton leaves a building (Marla’s) with the words “MYSELF MYSELF MYSELF” in graffiti behind him. Third clue: Tyler lives on Paper Street.) Catching on to that from the start gives the middle of the film a whole new meaning – I wonder what it would be like to watch it without knowing the real relationship between the two main characters. But watching this essentially as a cult that takes the words of a madman with dissociative identity disorder as gospel was fascinating. And it did have me wondering for part of the film if Marla was real. Speaking of which, she’s basically Bellatrix Lestrange with shorter hair, right?

Despite my general dislike of unreliable narrators, though, this conceit worked beautifully until the final showdown between the two personalities. The idea that he developed this alternate personality in response not to the trauma of sexual or physical abuse but to the abuse of everyday life in our society is incredibly clever. (Speaking of which, that “How’s that working out for you?”/”What?”/”Being clever.” exchange had to be my favorite exchange in the movie.)

And I suppose I’d be remiss – or reminded by you of it – if I didn’t link to the surprisingly funny Jane Austen Fight Club.

No Country for Old Men.

Tentatively scheduled to be on Mike & Mike at 8:42 am EDT on Monday. Latest draft blog entry is posted, with updates on the Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Rangers.

I wanted to read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men before seeing the film and knocked it off in just three days. The book is riveting, a quick-moving hard-boiled mystery along the Texas-Mexico border that starts when Llewelyn Moss comes upon the carnage at the scene of a failed drug shipment, decides to take the money he finds, and ends up hunted by the law and by an amoral hit man named Anton Chigurh. The story is interspersed with first-person passages from Sheriff Bell, who tries to make some sense of the violence and disregard for life he saw while pursuing Chigurh. It is quick and dense with action; McCarthy makes scenes like Chigurh buying medical supplies and treating himself for bullet wounds interesting and fast.

I still haven’t seen the film version, but if the movie was true to the book for the character of Chigurh, I’m surprised to see that any actor could win an Oscar for that role. Chigurh is central, and he is undeniably scary, but he is also completely one-dimensional and boring. He’s an automaton, a remorseless, reasonless killer with no personality and little action in the book beyond (sometimes inventive) murders. The reader sees Chigurh from the omniscient narrator’s perspective, but the narrator’s view is limited to Chigurh’s actions during the events of the novel, and we are left with the same confusion and lack of information as Sheriff Bell, who refers to Chigurh as a “ghost” and whose window into Chigurh is limited to the events laid out in the novel. We know Chigurh by the trail of dead, but we know nothing else of him. (One possible interpretation of Chigurh is that he is Fate or, more likely, Death, which would explain the lack of emotion and inability to change his course of action; I imagine you could write a whole thesis on that topic.) Sheriff Bell is the most interesting and complex character, but he’s not involved in the action – he’s the thoughtful, not-dead narrator who can’t figure out the hows and whys of what he witnessed – almost as if he’s God looking down on a world gone mad.

I also found McCarthy’s prose, a little unclear in the best of circumstances, to be at its most confusing in No Country, not just due to his standard aversion to punctuation but also due to the constant scene-shifting. There are two unnamed characters in offices whose roles were never clear to me, and, when one of them is killed, I wasn’t even sure which one it was.

The problems with thin characters only bothered me upon reflection – the book was a fantastic read because of the pacing and McCarthy’s tremendous and sometimes beautiful prose, and there’s plenty of material to consider after the fact that makes up for the weak characterizations. It’s not as good as Blood Meridian or The Road but still a solid read.

Next up: Back to Blandings Castle for some Heavy Weather.

Blood Meridian.

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of the most brutally violent books I’ve ever read, but in spite of that, it’s also one of the most beautifully written.

McCarthy’s prose is often compared to Faulkner’s, and while some of that is because they’re both from the South (just like every right-handed pitcher from Stanford is automatically compared to Mike Mussina), there are definite similarities in their styles. There’s a lilting quality to many of McCarthy’s sentences, even when he defies conventional sentence structure. He can be sparse with details when it suits his purpose (the novel’s protagonist is never identified beyond “the kid”), but can also fire off a stream of seemingly minute details that in the end paint a rich picture of a scene, a character, a moment. He never descends into the sheer inscrutability that scares so many readers away from Faulkner, who was an original in many ways but who’ll always be loved and reviled most strongly for his prose.

The story revolves around the aforementioned kid, a fourteen-year-old who runs away from his father (his mother died giving birth to him) to head out west and falls in with a group of mercenaries who are hunting an outlaw named Gómez while also collecting scalps of Apaches, all under the auspices of the Mexican government. And that’s where it gets violent – ruthlessly, sociopathically so. The violence isn’t disturbing because it’s graphic – it is, somewhat – but because it’s so effortless and is achieved on so grand a scale. It is genocide writ small, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that McCarthy based it loosely on the real-life Glanton gang, using Glanton’s top lieutenant, Judge Holden, as the primary villain.

The plot didn’t pick up until I was about halfway through the book; the kid seems to take forever to fall in with Glanton/Holden’s gang, and it’s not until things start to go awry that the plot gets interesting, with the kid and Judge Holden gradually forming the central conflict that defines the last third of the book.

If you’ve got the stomach to get through several scenes of extreme – but, as TIME wrote in its summary of the book, never gratuitous – violence, then I would certainly recommend Blood Meridian to anyone who enjoys Faulkner, morality plays (even ones where the moral lines are blurred), or great American literature. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when the scalps start flying.