Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I originally picked up Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West as part of my deep dive into the "Weird Western" genre. Although there aren't supernatural figures, per se, in McCarthy's novel, Blood Meridian is one of the goriest, most horrifying novels I've ever read. As much as the horror genre is synonymous with Stephen King and the paranormal, Cormac McCarthy proves in this novel that nothing is more cruel, vicious, or malevolent than mankind.
Blood Meridian is less of a straightforward narrative than a free-flowing treatise on trauma. The novel loosely follows the (mis)adventures of "the kid" - our antihero protagonist who teams up with a band of malicious marauders in the wild, wild west. Make no mistake, though: this isn't the winsome, whitewashed western of Woody, Bullseye, and Jessie. McCarthy's central mission in Blood Meridian is to illustrate (in explicit detail) the violence that permeated the American landscape of the 1800s. Callous cruelty abounds, with rampant racism and vicious acts of dehumanizing violence that would put any Marvel supervillain to shame. The first half of the novel is essentially a nonstop bloodbath of biblical proportions, with the historical Glanton gang rampaging through the southwest states and into the fringes of Mexico. Bloodshed ensues.
So. Much. Bloodshed.
Threaded throughout the pages of death and dismemberment is an eloquent, philosophical core that attempts to elevate Blood Meridian to literary heights. The book echoes several other "great American novels," most notably Moby-Dick or, the Whale and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . "The kid" shares some literary DNA with Huck, another orphaned young man with a deformed conscience; one of Glanton's mercenaries, the malicious Judge Holden, eventually emerges as the "white whale" of McCarthy's tale, haunting "the kid" from town to town like an unholy ghost made corporeal through his trail of scalped corpses. Though the only other Cormac McCarthy novel that I've read is No Country for Old Men , I think it's safe to assume that McCarthy ascribes to the Charles Bukowski/Chuck Palahniuk school of ambiguous, amoral antiheroes. These authors are less interested in tidy, tightly constructed story arcs than in messy, maddening narratives with frayed loose ends. In McCarthy's eyes, it's less important to tie up your novel with a bow than to blow it to pieces with a howitzer cannon.
It's hard to say that I "enjoyed" reading Blood Meridian, because only a sociopath (like Judge Holden, for example) would find amusement in the gory series of events transpiring in McCarthy's novel. At one point, Holden states that "War is God" - and most of the book's characters worship at this altar of altercation. That being said, McCarthy's prose can be incredibly insightful, thought-provoking, and piercing; in some ways, Blood Meridian is more a philosophical reflection on war, violence, and (im)morality than an adventure novel set in the wild west. While McCarthy periodically draws upon references to vampires, exorcisms, ghost armies, and primordial gods, these allusions are used to describe something even more frightening: human nature.
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Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.