Robert Jacoby's Reviews > Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
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Mar 10, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: my-favorites

Blood Meridian is among the finest works of literature I have ever read. In the backdrop of the 1850s Southwest, and using highly stylized and epic prose, Cormac McCarthy explores man's place in the universe and the depths of depravity in man's soul. For those are the two great themes of this novel: the heart of man and his place in the universe. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." And it's all here, McCarthy putting everything on display in magnificent language. From page one he let's us in on what's ahead and what it's about as he describes the kid: "...and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man." So it's a tale of violence and man's history, the likes of which may never be written again.

The characters McCarthy places on his stage are individual yet emblematic: the kid, the judge, the fool, the expriest. Along with Delaware indian scouts, some half-witted killers from Missouri and elsewhere, and Toadvine (a fellow with no ears and the letters HFT burned into his forehead), they make up a gang of scalphunters led by John Joel Glanton. Based on historical events, the novel follows the Glanton Gang as they run riot through America's southwest, going after anyone and anything in their path to claim their prized bounty: scalps.

As a poet, I greatly admire McCarthy's skills with words and language. When he gets going, his placement of 20 words in a row top some of the finest poetry I have ever read. It's like reading Dylan Thomas on steroids. As a novelist, I greatly admire his storytelling skills. A storyteller's aim is to put the reader in the story, alive and breathing in it, making it real for you, making it your experience. McCarthy is a superb storyteller in these pages. You've heard the cliche "A picture is worth a thousand words." McCarthy's masterful pen creates a picture in 10 words, 5 words. As an avid reader I enjoyed wallowing in his intricate and beautiful prose. (Have a good dictionary or computer nearby to look up words.)

To the reviewers and critics who say McCarthy "tried to hard" to be "literary" I reply (as another reviewer has already): Do you think Milton "tried to hard" in Paradise Lost? Or Virgil "tried to hard" in The Aeneid? Or Shakespeare "tried to hard", at anything? Nope. Didn't think so. (Truths are there to be discovered, like a distant galaxy, or a new species here on earth, or new mathematical equations or scientifific principles; that they remained undiscovered up to that time didn't make them any less real, true, or profound; it just meant they remained undiscoverered to us.) Often the things in this world that are not easily comprehended are those of highest worth and lasting value. They remain. This book reads as if it were written in 1885. Or 1955. Or 1985 (which it was). It is timeless.

But I don't claim to "get it" all. The first time I finished it I was simply floored. I remember finishing it (on vacation on a beach) and setting it aside and standing up to look out onto the open sea with two thoughts as I wandered around: What did I just read? And: What just happened to me? A couple years later I picked it up to read through a second time to understand both questions.

Few other books have affected me so profoundly after finishing it as this one. I can name the others: The Illiad, The Odyssey, the Bible, Moby Dick, and The Aeneid. McCarthy uses his story, his storytelling skills, and his breathtaking crafting of the English language to pierce into our hearts as in the final scenes of the book where it is asked: "For even if you should have stood your ground, yet what ground was it?" Yes. What ground was it? What ground does any of us stand on?

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Quotes Robert Liked

Cormac McCarthy
“Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen the horror in the round and learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance. - The judge”
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

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