Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, a Book Review in Three Parts

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

Rating:  ★★★

PART I: Initial Feelings

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow.”

Guess who’s feeling extra grouchy after a string of two and three star books and one DNF.

This girl.

I’m going to take it out on this novel because I’m so professional (sarcasm) and my review on this book at this point in time is basically totally meaningless because it’s already an American classic.  I think.

Anyway- I picked this up because it’s one of the more well known westerns out there, and I’d been craving something western since I started playing Red Dead Redemption way back in October 2018.

Dios mio, I could not have picked something farther removed from that. (On the bright side- my spanish hasn’t been this good since 10th grade.)

“Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.”

The writing is dazzling, but the style borders on insanity and takes a special kind of focus to decipher.  These sentences run on for DAYS.  The vocabulary is difficult, and when mixed with the vernacular it has a tendency to induce mind numbing levels of frustration.  There are no quotation marks to mark dialogue either, but that proved to be less of an issue as I became accustomed to it.

For all the flowery description and beautiful scenery, I felt like I never had any idea where the characters were.  I guess this is largely because they probably didn’t have any idea where they were, wandering the desert as they did, but it was confusing.  Also, at one point it was snowing and I thought they were in a desert.  Does this happen IRL?  Soon after they were on a mountain, but I swear they started in a desert.

“I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”

Cormac McCarthy could teach Stephen King a thing or two about violence.  I totally didn’t read the blurb (my own fault), but I thought this was going to be about gangs robbing banks and trains and stuff.  It was about gangs scalping Native Americans, Mexicans, and generally anyone who got in their way. It was pretty awful.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I really need to pay better attention to what I pick up.

Trigger/content warnings: if you have them, please stay very far away from this book. Far, far away.

Side note:  Has anyone read The Road?  I wanted to read that one too, but now I’m thinking maybe not.

“War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

What else?  Hmm… despite all the things that didn’t work there were some *fun* bar fight scenes I enjoyed.  Aside from how they ended a lot of them felt like that fantastic scene where Lenny and Arthur go drinking together and chaos ensues.  They ended much bloodier but when you’ve seen a gang commit what is basically genocide, the bar scenes seemed like small potatoes.

And I think that’s all I have to say that.  I don’t recommend it, and I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting McCarthy’s work in the future.  (I’m reneging on this.  I think I’ll definitely visit his work in the future.  I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I didn’t know could handle it.)

Oh yeah- I forgot about the Epilogue.  WTF was that about?  Please blogger friends, dazzle me with your brilliance.  Clearly I was not worthy.

PART II: In Retrospect

“What joins men together is not the sharing of bread but sharing of enemies.”

Here’s the deal.  I wrote this review almost directly after I finished reading it over a week ago.  I initially gave it two stars and was pretty salty about the whole thing.  I’m sorry because I know some of you were looking forward to the review, so please know that was not a proud moment for me.

I don’t regret anything I said above (which is why I’ve left it), but this book has stuck with me. There are many possible interpretations of this novel.  A couple that I looked up: Blood Meridian satirizes the classic American western novel, is a “savage indictment of Manifest Destiny”, is nihilistic, and also “eludes all interpretation”* (all of these were taken directly from the book’s wikipedia page).

I keep turning it over and over again trying to solve the puzzle and looking for answers, and I don’t think that feeling is going to go away any time soon.  So I’m bumping the rating up to three stars with the caveat that it really probably deserves far more than that, but I’d need to re-read it to be sure, and for now I need a break. (My thoughts on this continued in Part III.)

“[He] lurched into the street vowing to shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch.”

In trying to decipher the puzzle that is Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, I stumbled across this article, which talks about McCarthy’s sense of humor.  And you know what?  It’s true.  He really is funny.  Sick.  But funny.  There were plenty of times I wanted to laugh out loud, and then stopped myself because I thought the content of the book was really awful, and even worse it really happened, so laughing out loud would make me a terrible person.  Still, I wanted to laugh.

One last struggle I had with the book and didn’t mention above, is that the book needed better transitional scenes.  I figured out very late in the game that the chapter headings/titles are acting as the transitions.  If you give this a go, read the chapter headings, memorize them.  They help organize the structure and sense of place.

PART III: ENDING SPOILERS DISCUSSION

“All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.”

I don’t normally include spoilers, but I think it makes an interesting discussion and given that it’s a pretty widely known and read book, I don’t feel terrible about including them.  You have been warned. (This section written was part of my original review, and added on to later.)

I’m insanely annoyed at the ambiguity of what happened to the Kid (and the ambiguity in general).  I’ve read the theories that he was raped.  Honestly- those make no sense to me.  Let’s do the math.  The kid was estimated to be 14 in 1849.  His last known sighting happens in 1878.  Thirty years later.  He would have been about 43.  The Judge on the other hand, given all his traveling (which okay, might have been a lie) and education, I imagined to be 30/40 in 1849.  Thirty years later he’d have been 60 or 70.  Are we really arguing that a 60 or 70 year old man with the health care available in 1878 would have been able to overpower an otherwise healthy 43 year old?  Really?!

I’m more inclined to believe it was consensual due to past abuse we didn’t see when he was a boy/teen (either by the Judge or the Kid’s father).  That being said I imagine the Kid is dead due to what the casual side-character observances say about the jake (which is apparently a word for outhouse, I always thought it was slang for cops, this lead to admittedly hilarious confusion in retrospect). The Kid being dead really pisses me off.  It pissed me off more than Ned Stark pissed me off.  I needed the Judge to get justice.  I needed a shred of hope in this terribly dark and depressing story.

Aside from that- I’m not really sure what it’s even supposed to symbolize.  The Judge is often described as a seven foot tall, completely bald baby (maybe symbolizes America given it’s relative ‘newness’ as a country, or possibly greed and capitalism because of his actions). The Kid could represent progress (he does eventually become ‘the Man’) or reason because despite his violent actions, I got the sense throughout it was only under provocation.  Maybe we’re inferring that greed and capitalism will always trump reason or hinder progress?  I just don’t know.

“All progressions from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage.”

I wrote above about the meaning of this novel and how I’m still trying to piece it together.  I think there is a strong argument there that it’s some great joke McCarthy has played on the literary community, and it really is meaningless… but if I had to pick a meaning, it would be that violence is senseless.

This book bounces from violent annihilation of entire villages, to our protagonists dying of thirst in the desert, and being saved by those same exact people they would have otherwise raped, killed and scalped.  Most of the Glanton gang dies in the end, not much better off than they started, still desert wanderers, despite the massive amounts of gold and weapons they have acquired.  So not only was there little-to-no benefit (they drank most of the gold away, there isn’t much to spend gold on in the desert), but they largely orchestrated their own downfall.  And this interpretation still doesn’t sit right with me.

If you have read the book, I would love to know what you think happened in the end or what you took away from the novel.

“He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”