Julie'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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Oct 18, 12

bookshelves: usa-historical, historical-fiction, classic, best-of-2012, read-2012
Read from October 14 to 17, 2012

They passed through a highland meadow carpeted with wildflowers, acres of golden groundsel and zinnia and deep purple gentian and wild vines of blue morninglory and a vast plain of varied small blooms reaching onward like a gingham print to the farthest serried rimlands blue with haze and the adamantine ranges rising of out nothing like the backs of seabeasts in a Devonian dawn.


I read this and I marvel. How does one writer, equipped with the same words, the same semantic possibilities as any, know to string these particular words together in just this way, paragraph after paragraph, page after page? My copy of Cormac McCarthy's 1985 classic Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West is mauled by dog-eared pages and inked underlines as I seek to capture and remember his revelatory images of the borderlands of the Southwest and the astonishing employ of English that feels primordial under his pen.

Once again, Cormac McCarthy tears me apart, digs at the darkest corners of despair and depravity in my mind, poking and prodding with a sharp stick as I wince and try to turn away. Yet unlike The Road, a black and white dystopian nightmare which offers redemption through the steadfast love of its principal characters, Blood Meridian is merciless Technicolor nihilism. Each character explores the vast possibilities of evil as McCarthy pulls the reader through the reeking entrails of history.

They found the lost scouts hanging head downward from the limbs of a fireblacked paloverde tree. They were skewered through the cords of their heels with sharpened shuttles of green wood and they hung gray and naked above the dead ashes of the coals where they’d been roasted until their heads had charred and the brains bubbled in the skulls and steam sang from their noseholes. Their tongues were drawn out and held with sharpened sticks thrust through them and they had been docked of their ears and their torsos were sliced open with flints until the entrails hung down their chests.


Blood Meridian is based on historical accounts of the Glanton Gang, a band of mercenaries that roamed the Texas-Mexico borderland in the mid-19th century, trading scalps for gold. Their initial objective was to pursue hostile Indian warriors who reigned by terror throughout the Borderlands. Eventually the crew of ex-soldiers, escaped slaves, convicts, marginalized immigrants, disenfranchised Indians and plain old thugs extended their quest for carnage to peaceful, agrarian Mexicans and Native Americans on both sides of the still-disputed border.

To read three hundred and fifty pages of unrelenting brutality, I have to give myself up to the prose, which is beautiful and original beyond compare, and to what I think the author sought to accomplish with his symphony of violence. I believe McCarthy offers the absolute opposite of the glorification of violence – he depicts horror to force the acknowledgment of it. His stories are blood-curdling pleas to recognize that we – as a nation, as a measure of humanity - are built on the back of history’s corpses. He decries the chest-thumping patriotism that is endemic to nations which claim moral superiority, generally by citing some sort of divine right. Scholar Sara Spurgeon in a critical essay of Blood Meridian (“The Sacred Hunter and the Eucharist of the Wilderness: Mythic Reconstructions in Blood Meridian”) declares the novel a “a sort of antimyth of the West.” There are no good guys in McCarthy’s depiction of the American West: there are only amoral murderers and the victims of their bloodlust. “Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn.” Cunning words, spoken by a character who is the book’s Satan incarnate, its maniacal resident philosopher.

The danger of a book like this is that the reader must detach to make it through the gore. In comparison to The Road, where humility and love are present on every page and you have a sense the writer is suffering and weeping with you, the substance of Blood Meridian risks being subsumed by its intense and unrelenting style.

But without question Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West is yet another McCarthy entry in the canon of Great North American Literature.
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Reading Progress

10/15/2012 page 157
44.0% ""What have you got that a man could drink with just a minimum risk of blindness and death?" Raw and brutal. Spellbinding." 2 comments
10/17/2012 page 236
67.0% "My dreams are haunted. When I can sleep, that is..."
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay One of the best novels of the 20th Century--at least for me. but of course, I think Cormac McCarthy is one of the best of our current American writers. Have you read other novels by McCarthy?


Julie I hold your opinion in the highest regard, Jay, so it's wonderful to have such strong conviction regarding the quality of this book. I read "The Road" this summer - my first McCarthy. It blew me away. Shattered my soul. I knew I had to read more.


Julie Goodness Gracious. That was brutal. Must think on it before further comment.


message 4: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay For me, there is a progression in McCarthy's novels. As you think about Blood Meridian, you might see it as one of McCarthy's lead-ups to The Road. Many consider Sutree as his greatest novel. It is certainly one of his more difficult in terms of language, but it takes place in the same geographical environment as The Road and, at the ending, points to Blood Meridian. In regard to Blood Meridian, I don't think I have read a more brutal novel: it is more than sobering.


message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Burns Brutal is not the word...harrowing. It still lingers in my memory as a book with a punch that could knock you out! Poweful writing!


Michael Outstanding review. The awesome prose to me doesn't quite account for me forgiving the discomfort of recurring brutality. Why reading of this dark tale makes me feel more alive and attuned to the light, I am still not sure. Any reader would hope that these characters do not define all that it means to be human. I see what Jay means about the trajectory to The Road.


message 7: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Your review is very well done--deeply reflective and perceptive. I have read all of McCarthy's novels and have simply been unable to write about them individually. I did do a piece comparing Tim Winton and McCarthy, but it was not as insightful as your review on Blood Meridian. Thank you for your work.


Jane Jay wrote: "Your review is very well done--deeply reflective and perceptive. I have read all of McCarthy's novels and have simply been unable to write about them individually. I did do a piece comparing Tim ..."

Ok, don't know T Winton. Would like to see your comparison.
For a McCarthy fan (think I preferred Road and No Country to Blood Meridian, only slightly), which one should I start with? Thx


message 9: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Jane wrote: "Jay wrote: "Your review is very well done--deeply reflective and perceptive. I have read all of McCarthy's novels and have simply been unable to write about them individually. I did do a piece co..."

Cloudstreet is Winton's breakout novel that is an Australian classic. You might begin with that work. The Turning is his most recent collection of short stories and reading that collection will give you a sampling of his style and major themes. The Riders is one of my favorites but it, atypically, is not set in Australia. His most recent work is Eyrie.


message 10: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Thanks.


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