Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West. Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.
Bored me to death. The story follows a fictional teenager referred to as “the kid,” with the bulk of the text devoted to his experiences with the Glanton gang, a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred Indigenous Americans and others in the United States–Mexico borderlands from 1849 to 1850 for bounty, pleasure, and eventually out of nihilistic habit. You would think that something with that much chaos and blood would be thrilling enough to read but guess what, it was not.
Although the novel initially received lukewarm critical and commercial reception, it has since become highly acclaimed and is widely recognized as McCarthy’s magnum opus and one of the greatest American novels of all time. Hmm, maybe Americans have a bit weirder tastes when it comes to novels. I mean American Pastoral * Philip Roth was deemed as one and that bored me to death as well. (Thank God they made a movie which was halfway decent).
The kid is an illiterate Tennessean whose mother died in childbirth who flees from his father to Texas at the start of the story.
The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her own bosom the creature who would carry her off. The father never speaks her name, the child does not know it. He has a sister in this world that he will not see again. He watches, pale and unwashed. He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.
He is pretty violent and vicious. He is recruited by violent criminals including Captain White, and later by Glanton and his gang, thereby securing release from a prison in Chihuahua, Mexico. The kid takes part in many of the Glanton gang’s scalp-hunting rampages, but gradually displays a moral fiber that ultimately puts him at odds with the Judge. “The kid” is later as an adult referred to as “the man”.
They is four things that can destroy the earth, he said. Women, whiskey, money, and niggers.
Part cowboy poetry and prairie philosophy, it reads like a riddle: a 350 page twisting meander through an often unexplained but always brutally violent American West.
I can think of better places and better ways.
Can ye make it be?
No. It’s a mystery. A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it. You believe that?
I dont know.
The kid meets a series of characters in his path who do not seem to play any role in shifting his already deviated moral compass. The story, such as it is, seems to involve a sort of Groundhog Day of deeply unpleasant people doing deeply unpleasant things to other people, who may or may not be deeply unpleasant, for reasons that are, at best, obscure. Oh and let’s not forget the caged imbecile who eats his own faeces. I have absolutely no idea how this farrago of gore, violence, evil and outright nastiness could possibly be a contender for the title of Great American Novel.
Judge Holden, or “the judge” is a huge, pale and hairless man who often seems almost mythical or supernatural. He is a polyglot and polymath and a keen examiner and recorder of the natural world. He is extremely violent and deviant. He is said to have accompanied Glanton’s gang since they found him sitting alone on a rock in the middle of the desert and he saved them from pursuing Apaches. It is hinted that he and Glanton have some manner of pact. He gradually becomes the antagonist to the kid after the dissolution of Glanton’s gang, occasionally having brief reunions with the kid.
Unlike the rest of the gang, Holden is socially refined and remarkably well educated; however, he perceives the world as ultimately violent, fatalistic, and liable to an endless cycle of bloody conquest, with human nature and autonomy defined by the will to violence; he asserts, ultimately, that “War is god.”
John Joel Glanton, or simply Glanton is the American leader, or “captain”, of a gang of scalphunters who murder Indians and Mexican civilians and military alike. His history and appearance are not clarified except that he is physically small with black hair and has a wife and child in Texas. He is a clever strategist. His last major action is to take control of a profitable Colorado River ferry, which ultimately leads to an ambush by Yuma Indians in which he is killed.
If you like a book that says we rode to here we rode to there than we killed some people and then we rode to another place this is the book for you.
That painted horde dogged their steps the day long. They were twenty-four hours without water and the barren mural of sand and sky was beginning to shimmer and swim and the periodic arrows sprang aslant from the sands about them like the tufted stalks of mutant desert growths propagating angrily into the dry desert air. They did not stop. When they reached the wells at Alamo Mucho the sun was low before them and there was a figure seated at the rim of the basin.
Other books by the same author: The Road by Cormac McCarthy * Book Review