Image is cover art by David Higdon.
“War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”
Every now and then in the Age of Men there will come a book that will touch the very bedrock of the human psyche, and do it well.
Hopefully the rest of this review won’t be anticlimactic after that intro.
Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West is American Author Cormac McCarthy’s fifth novel and – to me, at least – possibly his best. It’s so good, I can’t even be flippant and sarcastic while writing about it.
The novel is a loose amalgamation of historical fact, fever dream and desert mysticism. The plot follows a runaway teenager from Tennessee known to the reader through the length of the book only as “The Kid”, who eventually finds himself falling in with the Glanton Gang, a group of scalp hunters that historically roamed the then U.S.-Mexican borderlands. They massacre and scalp not just Apache Indians, but also other peaceful aboriginal natives – and going even as far as murdering Mexicans.
If it hasn’t dawned on you by now, Blood Meridian is chock full of violence – enough to make a sadist weep for joy. There isn’t a lot of consensus on what the violence is supposed to mean, or symbolize – in fact, there is no agreed upon interpretation of the novel itself – but there’s no way a reader can digest the scenes without feeling that they hold a profound, non-rational, ungraspable truth.
Perhaps the most iconic character in the novel, Judge Holden (referred to simply as “The Judge”) is our spokesperson for the text; the philosophical undertones of Blood Meridian run very deep, and he gives voice to them. For instance, when asked by members of the Glanton gang around a fire whether he thought ‘men or creatures like them’ existed elsewhere in the universe, Judge Holden negated the possibility, and added:
“The truth about the world, [he said,] is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.”
The immediate takeaway from the above would be that Blood Meridian is nihilistic in its approach – which is what many critics have postulated. The violence, they say, is simply violence – senseless and brutal.
And yet I think there is much more to Blood Meridian than meets the eye, or the rational intellect. I wouldn’t venture to say that the violence is aestheized, because it is not. However, there is a deeper symbolism in it, cyclic and driving. At the very least, it is teleological – the old ouroboros. War waiting for man, and man waging it. One cannot do without the other.
Primal. That’s it in a word. It’s an amazing book.