This ain't an easy book to read. This is an uber-violent novel that paints a picture of the American West like something done by Hieronymus Bosch. I t...moreThis ain't an easy book to read. This is an uber-violent novel that paints a picture of the American West like something done by Hieronymus Bosch. I think Harold Bloom got it exactly right when he said,
"The violence is the book. The Judge [Holden] is the book, and the Judge is, short of Moby-Dick, the most monstrous apparition in all of American literature. The Judge is violence incarnate. The Judge stands for incessant warfare for its own sake."
While Blood Meridian is perhaps not as intellectually challenging as one of the novels of James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon, McCarthy has basically put a small thermonuclear device between the covers of this novel, and then double-dares you to open it and read it. It is my opinion that this novel is probably the most relentlessly brutal and savage novel that you'll ever read.
Blood Meridian is ostensibly based upon a series of historical events that occurred along the U.S./Mexico border region from Texas to San Diego in the mid-19th century, involving a gang of outlaws (the Glanton Gang) led by the fictional 'Judge Holden'--a man so evil that he almost defies description. And like Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, the novel is loaded with biblical references and imagery. The ending is vintage McCarthy too, i.e., completely and totally unexpected. All I can tell you is that I have read this novel several times, and each time I find myself somewhat ensorcelled, and in an almost evil or grimly terrifying sort of way, as I turn the pages. It may be the bildungsroman of 'The Kid' and his adventures, but there is absolutely nothing nostalgic or romantic about the West that McCarthy has painted in this novel.
Is Blood Meridian McCarthy's best novel? Well, the critics would sure have you think so. For me though, I think that I like his much earlier novel Outer Dark (1968) even more; and then his "Borderlands Trilogy" that includes All The Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998) are truly amazing novels that I re-read every few years. And for those of you who have read McCarthy's No Country for Old Men (2005), or saw the recent film adaptation by Joel and Ethan Coen of the same title; well, you obviously have an understanding of McCarthy's penchant for unrelenting violence and a difficult ending.
I just finished rereading this spare, but intensely powerful, little book. There's an almost intoxicating quality to the writing of Cormac McCarthy, a...moreI just finished rereading this spare, but intensely powerful, little book. There's an almost intoxicating quality to the writing of Cormac McCarthy, and The Road is an excellent example of his mastery of the craft. I swear that there is simply not one extraneous word, and that his brief--almost painfully brief--prose somehow majestically morphs into an elegy that becomes a song of sorrow about the last vestiges of human existence on a shattered Earth.
The Road is both relentlessly sad and horrifying as the reader follows the struggles of the 'man' and the 'boy' as they slowly journey on the road across the ash-covered and tortured landscape. But as painful as this book is to read, it is also at the same time the story of a beautiful love between a father and his son.
The Road is, at some level I think, a retelling of the Myth of Prometheus. Prometheus, as you may recall, was the Titan that created humankind from clay and then gifted them with fire. For defying Zeus and providing humans with fire, he was chained to a mountain-top where each day an eagle swooped down and devoured his liver. In The Road, the man and boy travel down the road trying to be the "good guys" and "carrying the fire" in a world that has obviously been, and continues to be, brutally ravaged by fire (whether it was by nuclear holocaust, an asteroid strike, or environmental catastrophe is not made clear, nor is it particularly relevant).
In my opinion, McCarthy's prose in The Road rises to the level of the apocalyptic poetic visions of William Blake, William Wordsworth, or even T.S. Eliot, and is richly loaded with allegory, metaphor, and symbology. And while The Road is grim, dark, and utterly bleak, it is entirely consistent with much of the rest of McCarthy's oeuvre. Like many of McCarthy's earlier works, The Road is the story of an epic journey and the relationship between a father and son (or older man and younger man). Think about, for example, Blood Meridian ("The Judge" and "The Kid"); No Country for Old Men (the Sheriff and his Uncle); and then each of the books in The Border Trilogy, and some of his earlier "Appalachian" works like The Orchard Keeper, Suttree, and Outer Dark.
Some how, some way, McCarthy, while exploring the dark side of humanity in his fiction also always manages to find the sparks of goodness in some of his characters--and yet Hope always remains an elusive and sketchy notion. For me, what makes McCarthy's vision of Hell so goddamned terrifying is that there is a palpable sense of doubt in the validity of Hope and Grace in his fiction. In The Road it is the 'glimmer' of Hope that carries the scent of salvation and keeps the reader going page after page, paragraph after paragraph, and spare sentence after spare sentence.
When you read Cormac McCarthy you quickly come to realize that really bad things can happen to decent people and that walking 'the road' of life is a difficult proposition at best. Tough stuff to read, but oh so worth it.(less)