Blood Meridian (Or the Evening Redness in the West)
Review by Nickolas Cook
Grim. Devastating. Bloody.
Those are just some of the adjectives one could use to describe Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 ultra violent western. Although Blood Meridian wasn’t well received by critics (or readers) when it first hit the shelves, it has since then come to be recognized for its brilliance and impact on the literary world. In the interim since its release, McCarty has won success with All The Pretty Horses and the fairly grim read, No Country For Old Men, but even his most ardent fan may find it difficult to swallow the narrative with feeling nauseous at times. It is a tough read to get through because of its unrelenting nature.
Based upon Samuel Chamberlain’s historical biography about The Glanton Gang, Blood Meridian tells the story of The Kid, a teenage runaway who finds himself thrown in with a band of ruthless scalphunters who kill Indians and gather the scalps of men, women and children for bounty. These are amoral savages who soon turn renegade and start to kill anyone and anything in their path, human and animal alike, mutilating both with equal vigor and disregard for life. The Kid is an uneducated, not-so-innocent who eventually comes to his own higher set of ethics, despite the ever present vacuum of violence in which he exists. Life requires the death of something else, and there is never anything that comes without pain and sacrifice.
The Kid’s foil is The Judge, a man who seems more like a demigod at times – vastly intelligent, physically superior to every man he rides with, who practices a horrific set of morals that even beasts of the jungle would not conscience.
McCarthy draws out the violence, until its gut wrenching ending, in which he leaves the reader wondering what lies behind the door where The Kid and The Judge finally meet as men. What terrible end could leave the hardened men who discover them speechless and pale faced as they flee the scene?
The hellish landscape, which plays almost as a secondary antagonist, is terrifying terrain – killing hail storms, quicksand, boiling heat, savage salt flats and dry riverbeds. It’s a world the likes of which Bosch, Milton, Dante and Blake would have recognized as a familiar setting for the examination of good and evil.
So why should a horror audience embrace Blood Meridian?
Because, for all intents and purposes – whether McCarthy meant it to be or not – this book reads like a period horror novel, set in the 1800s. In no way conceivable could anyone rate this as a simple ‘horse opera’: The violence is too all pervasive for the usually elderly conservative western reader – a violence on a mythical, almost biblical at times, scale, that examines how thin the line is between men and predatory beasts. Graphically portrayed, the narrative’s brutality is visceral and unrelenting, taking the reader by the throat at times, forcing him to examine his own morals and ethics. Blood Meridian is a novel that deserves its place among the greatest American novels ever written, side by side with Melville, Faulkner and King.