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A creative blog by Jim Kalin on The Whole 9

Novelist Jim Kalin lives in Los Angeles, writes a monthly column for Amateur Wrestling News, and has traded in his speargun for a banjo. His wife and son sing harmony.

BLOOD MERIDIAN

A meridian runs opposite of the equator, and it would also be the line from the north pole to the south pole that moves forever west as the sun sets.

This was in 1987. I was sailing with my family and some friends in the Bahamas. We had rented a 47-foot sailboat out of Hopetown, a small harbor settlement on Abaco Island. Hopetown’s main district was a former British settlement filled with the ancestors of those who fled the colonies during the America Revolution. The other side was smaller, black, the descendants of slaves. But the homes on both sides were clapboard cottages, charming and painted bubblegum colors, with wooden hurricane shutters and no screens. Hopetown’s lanes were so narrow that the only vehicles on the island were golf carts and bicycles.

We sailed two weeks. It was lazy, and the sun never gave us a break. My father had rigged up a canopy over the boat’s cockpit, for it was a necessary refuge, especially around 2pm. We’d sail all morning, then anchor off some deserted beach, and while the others waded the warm shallows, I’d grab my spear and swim out to deeper, cooler water to find reef or rocks. That’s where the hunting was best, however barracuda and large sharks also roamed there. I searched for Bahamian crawfish, which was the Caribbean version of a lobster. I preferred eating strawberry groupers, but they were more difficult to spear.

My favorite part about trips has always been gathering books to read. The Bahama trip of 1987 was by far the best for reading. I took Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and a book that had been suggested to me but that I knew practically nothing about. It was by a relatively unknown writer named Cormack McCarthy, and the book was called Blood Meridian.

I began reading McCarthy’s masterpiece early one morning while sitting on deck with my back leaned against the mast. I was fascinated, and on most days, I would have stopped after an hour and taken a break with the others in the cockpit. Instead, I moved farther away from everyone and sat on the prow, dangling my feet over the water. We sailed in protected areas between islands, so the boat rarely bucked or bounced. Hanging suspended over the sea seemed the perfect place to read Blood Meridian. When we stopped for the afternoon, I helped feed out the anchor line, then got back to the book. I didn’t go out that day with my spear and fins, nor did I join the others for happy hour in the cockpit. I couldn’t put that book down.

Blood Meridian is the greatest thing I’ll ever read. It’s also the most violent, and all colors in the story are vibrant for only a moment before dust and death flatten them into murk. But that I got to read it not in my apartment on the couch, but outside, under a hulking sun where very few people lived or traveled — such perfect conditions!

The summer sunsets in the Bahamas are beautiful, and to be on a sailboat, anchored off some uninhabited island or cay; unbelievable! But for two evenings in 1987, I resented those sunsets, because I slept on deck, and there were no adequate lights to read by at night. So I stared skyward, into a moonless night, at the dull glint smeared across a sandpaper firmament, and thought of McCarthy’s rogues in their desert setting, hunting other beings just as savage as themselves, and on those pages, not a single character was at all unhappy about it.

  1. geek love is one of my favorites, so i’m hitting the book store to get blood meridian this week.

  2. …wish I would have been on that boat with you. Of course in 1987, I was only 19. : )

  3. You paint a beautiful picture~

    I could almost hear the water gently slapping the sides of the sailboat and the sail shifting to and fro in the breeze.

    I think I’ll go and look for Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love~

  4. Great story. I’m definitely going to have to check out that book.

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