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118 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard work that more than rewards the effort, October 17, 2005
This review is from: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Paperback)
his was one of those things where I'd heard about the book, in bits and pieces, for years: namechecked by William Gibson in Virtual Light and by Garth Ennis in Preacher, yapped about by online friends, and requested every so often by customers at the bookstore where I once worked. You know how this kind of thing goes: after a while, all these name-droppings have a cumulative impact, flipping a little switch in your brain one day and sending you off in search of the item in question. So that's how I came to Blood Meridian - knowing the book by its notorious reputation alone and little else. Having finally finished it, I can say that its notoriety is richly deserved, but that's hardly the whole story.

The premise could be described for the ADD among you as Huckleberry Finn meets Natural Born Killers, which hardly sounds flattering, I'm sure, but bear with me. The story opens on the peregrinations of the Kid, a vicious, knife-fighting fourteen-year-old runaway from Tennessee who in 1848 drifts down the Mississippi first to New Orleans and thence to Texas, where he falls in with a rogue Army unit making a piratical raid into Mexico. After Apaches wipe out the unit in the Sonora desert, the Kid lands in a Mexican jail, where he meets and is recruited by a group of bounty hunters retained by the government to collect Indian scalps as retaliation for a string of Apache massacres in remote border villages.

Here is where the story really begins. The Kid is absorbed into the gang, a collection of opportunists, outlaws, drifters and psychopaths presided over by two domineering personalities: the nominal leader of the group, Ike Glanton, a mercenary ex-soldier with a nasty temper and a deep vein of sadism, and Glanton's advisor, the fat, hairless, urbane, and utterly mercurial Judge Holden. The gang finds an Indian tribe - not the marauders but a peaceful fishing village - and slaughters it utterly. But unable to catch the ever-elusive Apaches, the company elects to pursue easier prey; namely, the defenseless villages and mining camps littering the arid wastes of the Southwest. As their bounty hunt turns into a genocidal murder spree, the gang, and even Glanton, forget their simple mercenary aspirations and become increasingly captivated by the magnetism of the Judge, who tells them they are agents of a pitiless natural law, high priests sacrificing the undeserving to a blood-soaked pagan god.

The Kid, his ego subsumed by the group organism, essentially disappears from the book as Glanton and the Judge assume center stage. Occasional chapters deal with other members of the gang - an apostate priest, a runaway slave - but their individuality is eventually consumed too. The narrative becomes increasingly distant and godlike - rather than seeing their surroundings through the eyes of the gang, we see the gang from the point of view of, for instance, the wind passsing through their camp. They go beyond a place where most readers could follow, so like elusive elementary particles, we have to look for understanding in the marks left by their passage.

The book is a fantasia of luridly-described, Hammer-horror violence set against a landscape whose harsh geography is, like the wildernesses of the Bible or the open seas of Melvile, spiritual in nature as well as temporal, a place where men come to commune with higher or lower powers. In fact, as a quick glance at Amazon shows, it's nigh-on impossible to review this book without invoking Melville or the Bible. McCarthy's prose seems to have rumbled out of the hollow places of the earth itself; even his descriptions of innocuities like tumbleweeds and roadrunners can sound like passages from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Let me be clear: this book is not a "revisionist western." It is not an apologia. McCarthy is not tut-tutting and bewailing the fate of the proud, noble Indian; in point of fact, many of the Indians in this book are as messed-up and psychopathic as the whites. His vision is bigger than that. He's talking about the nature of violence - the little stain of destructive insanity in all of us that is not adequately explained by genetics or psychology or class theory. Original sin, if you like. The problem, as McCarthy sees it, is not that white people are bad. It is not even that civilization is bad - the natives, as McCarthy reminds us, had a civilization too. The problem is that people have evil inside of them at a fundamental level, and when they're cut loose from their moorings and isolated in an unforgiving environment, that mindless, all-consuming blackness is free to bubble up to the surface.

So yeah. The book is as dense and heavy-duty as it sounds - indeed, even at a slim 350 pages it's tough going. I had to take a couple of long breaks to cleanse my literary palate with lighter fare. But even so, I predict I will be coming back to Blood Meridian often in the future - like a pile of bloodsoaked treasure, there are ample rewards here for people willing to get their hands dirty, and like murder, it can only get easier with practice.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 19, 2012 8:35:57 PM PST
You must read Aggression by Konrad Lorenz.

Posted on Sep 3, 2013 8:16:24 AM PDT
MT57 says:
Wow. What a terrific review.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2013 1:45:59 AM PST
Brilliant review.

Posted on May 6, 2014 6:27:03 PM PDT
A. Comer says:
I agree...great review.

Posted on Sep 21, 2014 8:33:05 PM PDT
john higgins says:
It was Comanches who wiped out the filibuster not Apaches.

Posted on Feb 22, 2016 5:43:59 AM PST
Enjoyable perspective. A worthy contribution for those seeking comprehension of the incredible, alarming book.
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Location: Prairie Village, Kansas United States

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