Author of the National Book Award-winning All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy is one of the most provocative American stylists to emerge in the last century. The striking novel Blood Meridian offers an unflinching narrative of the brutality that accompanied the push west on the 1850s Texas frontier.
“The authentic American apocalyptic novel…I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable as Blood Meridian.” (Harold Bloom) "McCarthy is a writer to be read, to be admired, and quite honestly envied." (Ralph Ellison) "McCarthy is a born narrator, and his writing has, line by line, the stab of actuality. He is here to stay." (Robert Penn Warren)
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Brutally violent, Blood Meridian turns the 19th century American West into a kind of hellish but hauntingly beautiful dreamscape, through which a gang of mercenaries wanders, killing without aim or reason. There is no comfort to be found anywhere in this novel, which overturns all Old West Myths, leaving only a stark, maddening world in which man exists on the edge of nihilism, "civilization" an illusion. The characters are almost opaque, reduced to actions in minimal dialogue. Even the language seems intended to confound and discomfit the reader, mixing arcane, half-forgotten scientific and philosophical terms with passages that sound almost like something from the Bible.
Yet, McCarthy is the definition of a powerful writer. His prose is hypnotic, the book's scenes affecting the reader as much by their eerie beauty and lyricism as by the horror and violence contained within. Their images will stick around in your head for days. The Judge, a monstrous, demihuman prodigy at the center of novel, whose amused, philosophical queries about whether or not the scenes around him represent man in man's natural state, is one of the more memorable characters I've come across in fiction.
Make no mistake, Blood Meridian is filled with powerful questions, about morality, about evil, about humanity's need for violence and dominance, about the nature of God, and so forth. Sometimes these questions are expressed explicitly, usually by the Judge, but mostly, they swirl just beneath the surface of the nightmare, challenging the reader to peer into the abyss and examine them. Though we don't live in such lawless times anymore, the distance from our safe doorsteps to the modern equivalent of a gang of roving, murderous scalpers may be shorter than we think.
McCarthy will certainly never be an author to everyone's taste, and not with this work, but Blood Meridian has made a few critics' "Best of the 20th Century" lists for a good reason. This is a first-rate work of modern literature.
Blood Meridian thrusts us into the deserts of 1849 Mexico, a pumice-floored, dust-coated, sun-blasted, blood-soaked, bone-punctuated wasteland of the soul. This ???hallucinatory void??? is home to snarling flies, demonic swine, vampire bats, ghostly wolves, spitting basilisks, harpy eagles, muttering ducks, and buzzards like black bishops. But the horrifying creatures are the wandering bands of Indians and Americans, performers of creative torture, casual murder, and orgiastic massacre, including eye-gouging, tongue-skewering, skull-crushing, intestine-spilling, scalp-hacking, ear-collecting, genital-lopping, skin-flaying, girl-raping, and baby-hanging. And the ???calamitous??? and ???boiling??? sun rises to meridian ???like the eye of God,??? bookended by bloody skies bookended by starry darkness.
Through it all wanders ???the kid,??? a 16-year-old blessed or cursed ???pilgrim.??? He may be the moral center of the novel, though his trajectory is warped by his amoral father figure, ???the judge,??? a giant, hairless, devil-idol-polyglot-polymath-philosopher who wants to become the ???suzerain??? of the world by cataloguing or killing everything in it. The judge, white as Moby-Dick and charismatic as the Confidence-Man, says that ???war is God,??? and who may gainsay him?
Unlike Virginia Woolf, McCarthy reveals the souls of his characters through speech, action, and landscape rather than through stream of consciousness thought. A grim beauty flares in his biblical style, vivid descriptions, and dramatic similes (though at times he may stretch too far for portent): ???in the night bats came from some nether part of the world to stand on leather wings like dark satanic hummingbirds and feed at the mouths of those flowers.???
Reader Richard Poe relates all with a compelling hint of morbid fascination or appalled excitement behind his gravelly, hard-boiled voice.
If you like unromantic, unpredictable, violent, apocalyptic, and beautiful westerns that expose the hellish pit in the human heart, listen to this book.