A.J.'s Reviews > Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
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's review
Feb 22, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction

This is one of the harder books I've tried to write a review for. The reason is that Cormac MCarthy's Blood Meridian encompasses some of the most astounding things found in fiction as well as a few drawbacks that would normally have me on a soapbox. Also coming off No Country for Old Men, which I loved (or at least the film), and The Road which I more or less detested, I wasn't sure what was in store. And I'm the sort of person who has problems using the words 'genius' and 'baffling' to describe the same thing.

The plot––and here one will have to use the word pretty generously––thrusts the reader into 1850s America, or the West specifically, where a character known only as the Kid hooks up with a band of scalp hunters. He encounters the shadowy figure of Judge Holden, who as the novel progresses becomes for the reader an increasingly nightmarish anthropomorphism. Violent crusades fold into mythic images of scorched landscape, which further fold into more violence and debauchery. In the tradition of everything from Genesis to Melville to classic Westerns, McCarthy's novel is a tough one to summarize if the aim is to impart any realistic understanding of its content.

Perhaps more important than what McCarthy uses to accomplish this bizarre feat of language arts is what he doesn't use: quotation marks, italics, apostrophes, semi-colons, or most surprisingly, character perspective. It may seem odd in an age of cinema to attempt to outpace it lacking fiction's one surefire advantage––entering characters' minds directly and for prolonged periods of time––but the emotionally muted portrayal of brutality constantly contrasted with biblically epic descriptions of the wilderness becomes something mesmerizing in itself. That's not to say I wouldn't pay a crew of elves to put quotation marks in the manuscript while McCarthy was asleep, or that the simile contest McCarthy was apparently having with himself didn't at times thicken the prose beyond what was necessary, but you have to give a dude props for doing his own thing. The rules are there to be broken.

What became clear early on was where the novel's strength would be found. That's in the character of Judge Holden. He appears infrequently in the beginning, but as you go along you find yourself being driven towards him even if most of what you get is increasingly cryptic and unsettling dialogue. Like a heart being zapped back to life, the more he appears the faster it beats, and by the final fourth when the judge has gone full-on antagonist, the book is humming. Like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, this character beyond anything else holds the show together, and the feeling that the reader is approaching some eternal force behind the pale hairless skin lifts the story into the mythic arena where the prose can do its job without being overly self-serving.

The ending, easily the most baffling and cryptic part of the novel, still manages to astound even as it vexes. I don't know if it has a definitive explanation like, say, in the Sopranos where I believe if you watch the shot composition in the final scene closely enough and pay attention to the allusions beforehand you can get the idea. Yet this is one of those cases where I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. The novel is what it is and I'm sure theories and more general opinions on merit abound. As for me, count me impressed. I wasn't sure what I was expecting from McCarthy, but it wasn't this. Truly excellent.

"His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die."


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Reading Progress

February 22, 2011 – Shelved
March 24, 2011 – Started Reading
March 27, 2011 –
20.0% "Liking this quite a bit better than The Road."
April 1, 2011 –
60.0% "Lots and lots of scenery."
April 2, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction
April 2, 2011 – Finished Reading

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