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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West Paperback – May 5, 1992
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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"The men as they rode turned black in the sun from the blood on their clothes and their faces and then paled slowly in the rising dust until they assumed once more the color of the land through which they passed." If what we call "horror" can be seen as including any literature that has dark, horrific subject matter, then Blood Meridian is, in this reviewer's estimation, the best horror novel ever written. It's a perverse, picaresque Western about bounty hunters for Indian scalps near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s--a ragged caravan of indiscriminate killers led by an unforgettable human monster called "The Judge." Imagine the imagery of Sam Peckinpah and Heironymus Bosch as written by William Faulkner, and you'll have just an inkling of this novel's power. From the opening scenes about a 14-year-old Tennessee boy who joins the band of hunters to the extraordinary, mythic ending, this is an American classic about extreme violence.
"McCarthy is a writer to be read, to be admired, and quite honestly—envied."
"McCarthy is a born narrator, and his writing has, line by line, the stab of actuality. He is here to stay."
—Robert Penn Warren
From the Hardcover edition.
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I can tell you that I don't like his stuff for the same reasons as anyone else. I'm not going to sit and read it for the same reason I would read a non-fiction narrative or something. Life is short and you can't always devote hours of your time slogging through such a vivid record of one characters life, only to find no meaning at the end. But sometimes I want to, and I have to applaud McCarthy on being one of the only people who can open that door in the world of literature.
The novel’s plot focuses on a group of outlaws who pillage the American Southwest and northern Mexico in the decades prior to the Civil War. The witness to all of this (and our protagonist) is an unnamed youth known simply as the Kid. Born under a meteor shower in the hills of Tennessee, he runs away from home at the age of fourteen. He soon falls in with a group of filibusters under the leadership of a man named Joel Glanton. However, the spiritual head is Glanton’s lieutenant, an albino called Judge Holden. The judge casts an unusual appearance: mammoth in size at nearly seven feet, with almost superhuman strength, and entirely bereft of hair. He speaks multiple languages and has a level of education unmatched in the region. He also happens to be the single most monstrous member in a group of violent murderers.
As the gang ravished the land hunting Indians (and later being hunted by them) to receive bounties from the Mexican government, Judge Holden expounds a philosophy that views war as an all-encompassing, primal force that defines humanity. As war’s apostle, he seeks to be suzerain of the Earth: “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.” It slowly becomes apparent that Judge Holden is not a mere human, but rather he may be the devil incarnate. Unfortunately for the Kid, he eventually becomes the focus of Judge Holden’s attention, vowing to destroy the protagonist because he alone among the gang reserved some part of his soul by disliking the killing the gang had performed.
The narrative ends on a grim note, but the epilogue has a somewhat optimistic symbolism that perhaps humanity can continue to carry a scintilla of decency in the routine actions of life. It is a shame that Cormac McCarthy has never won the Nobel Prize for Literature because he is among the most talented novelists in American history. Although they carry very different plots, McCarthy’s writing reminds me of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. In both, the lyrical prose describes a protagonist who encounters an embodiment of malevolence that exists beyond human logic. McCarthy also clearly performed significant research in creating an accurate portrait of the Southwest in its antebellum years. It has its inspiration in an autobiography titled My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain that has been out of print for decades. Perhaps the fact that the book’s depiction of evil has its roots in reality is what makes the work so disturbing. While Cormac McCarthy has published other novels subsequent to this effort, I doubt he or anyone else will soon match Blood Meridian.