Category Archives: Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West: Read from August 17 to November 20, 2015

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon depicting a novelist sitting down for a television interview. In the author’s lap is his latest novel, a massive 1000+ page tome. The caption reads the question by the interviewer who asks the author to sum up his novel in just a few words. The joke being that if the author could do that he wouldn’t have needed t write a 1000+ page novel. However, the joke implies the author is competent enough to actually need all those pages to tell his story.

Blood Meridian is a long fever study of violence in a sun-baked void. Death isn’t just everywhere, it is everything. Violence is inherent in every action of men, in every breath they take (their’s or another’s). The strong devouring the weak is the natural state of the universe of the novel. Yet there is a strange beauty to all this violence that even the most craven cannibal can appreciate: it is unromantic and perverted and deadly, but it has an attraction that is impossible to deny. Some men are more tempted to its beauty than others, some men actually revel in the violence while others flee or take refuge in the mud, but all men sense its power one way or another. This is what the novel, at least in my mind, is about. It is an evening – not as in the time of day but as a leveling or accounting thereof – of the violent animal nature which boils in all men and which they are to be held accountable for.

Blood Meridian is also very boring, over-written, and there is no dramatic tension what-so-ever. Plenty “happens” (at least in the parts where there is more than just page after page of simile description of staring at the sky), but there is no real danger for any of the characters, it’s just a continuing downward spiral of depraved murder headed by a character, the Judge, who I can only assume is the Devil. Whether the Judge is the Devil is hard to say since McCarthy is not one to go in for superstition and the supernatural, but I can’t describe the Judge any more than as the Devil himself. The Judge is everything violent and terrible in man (and in the universe), he is the reckoning, the evening of all men. He comes for blood and he is always just over the horizon. He probably doesn’t even actually exist in the novel but is just a placeholder for the violent tendencies of men personified as an enormous, hairless infant. He’s the imaginary friend of a psychopath.

The Kid we never get to really know because he’s at the mercy of everything going on around him – he barely seems to have any say in the events of the novel at all. The Kid is just led around for a few hundred pages while we watch. I had no sympathy for the Kid because there is nothing to be sympathetic towards. And maybe that was the point, but I can’t subscribe to a philosophy that says it’s okay to not empathize with human beings nor will I believe I have no say in who is in control of my own actions.

I will say that I’m not really sure what I was supposed to take away from the novel. I wasn’t particularly moved to reevaluate my opinions of violence or of savagery or of the cold nature of the universe, I didn’t spend my hours away from the novel contemplating the deeper meanings McCarthy thought he was expressing here, I was, much like the characters in the novel, unmoved by almost everything that wasn’t a beautiful simile of something and found most of what the Judge said to be obfuscated jibber-jabber.

Maybe McCarthy wanted the reader to feel numb and unsympathetic towards violence by the end of the novel? Maybe that’s why we shoot the dancing bear so we can feel grief for at least one dead thing? I don’t know. The book was long, but it doesn’t resonate. McCarty could have just said “The universe is beautiful with or without us”.

Maybe if I cared to I could read up on other people’s interpretations of the novel, but I think I know what I’m going to find there – a lot of hand waving and summary of the language of the novel with a few tentative stabs at what we think the novel is actually about. Maybe McCarthy really did have a point to make, but I feel like he summed his ideas up better in No Country For Old Men with the story of the father carrying the fire in the night. Blood Meridian is a cauldron of ideas McCarthy explores with more deftly (though perhaps not as beautifully) in his other novels.

96% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

I’m now convinced that all the people who go on and on about how great this book is have never read it – they just say it’s great because they’ve heard it’s great but if they sat down and actually read it they would put it down after 50 pages (at best) and never speak of it again. And not because it’s “bad” but because it’s not a novel, it’s one long fever description on violence in a sun-baked void.

90% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Cormac repeats many of the central themes of this novel in No Country For Old Men: a universe ruled by chance alone, and the relentlessness of pure evil in the Judge and Chigurh. The apocalyptic setting is repeated in The Road and the South West is always a character in all his novels. And so this novel is like a cauldron of ideas that his other novels are ladled out of: this is the dark broth of the cooking.

80% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

I do enjoy the interludes where the Judge expounds his philosophical and scientific theories. His audience is little more than savages of one degree or another and yet he lectures them as if they were in Harvard. Though what he teaches is so esoteric as to be nearly incomprehensible with a few nuggets of real insight tossed in here and there. And of course nobody agrees with him though they seem to understand it all.

75% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Cormac is well known as having a scientific mind. He’s not someone who believes in superstition or the supernatural, and so his writing reflects his views. Trouble is that it’s so bleak at times that he makes a case for bettering our current life with a bit of the unexplained. Yes everything is death, but who wants to live like that? Why be so savage? Unless he’s making a case against religion, but I don’t see it.

70% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

This is one of those cases where you’re reading something everyone says is brilliant but you don’t like/get it and you’re kinda afraid to raise your hand and say “Uh, I don’t get it”. Because you’re worried everyone is well versed in T.S. Elliot and James Joyce allusions and metaphors and symbolism and you’re the only idiot in the room. But honestly, I don’t see the point of this book, it’s just endless nothing.

55% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

They killed a lot of people. They rode on. They killed these other people. They rode on. They got into bar fights then rode on.

It’s boring. I’m only keeping on because the language is beautiful, but there isn’t much else here. Metaphor? I don’t see any. Symbolism? Perhaps, but I’m not putting in that much work for a book that’s otherwise dull. And I get this is poetry, but I’m just not “into this”.

50% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Well something finally happened – the killed about a thousand Indians and rode back in triumph.

So I feel bored reading this book but I wonder if maybe the lack of anything happening is part of the method here – to lull you into an acceptance of the violence? We’re basically riding around with the Devil and the only “heroic” act (pulling out the arrow) is chastised. The ultimate of earthly pleasure with no morals

45% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

I like the location of the Anasazi ruins and the difficult story of the traveler and the old man who dressed up as an Indian. But this is also the problem I have with the book: it’s nearly impenetrable and very dense. The book is like a poetic rorschach test designed to plumb the depths of your violent tendencies and where every ink blot is the many faces of the Devil.

I’m not sure if I like the book.

36% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

God speaks in bones and rocks. Those are his words.

They seem to have passed through into a world like ours but misshapen, malformed, put together wrong.

In the rain the world is almost melting.

Why is the book written to be so beautiful? Is it what draws men to violence: a beauty in the violence? Not much really happens in the novel except descriptions of violence, so what are we to make of this? Poetry?

28% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Words are things. The words he is i possession of he cannot be deprived of.

All will be known to you at last. To you as to every man.

The family of magicians, the fortune telling, the city of decaying mud. They rode on. Through what he likens to a gun barrel with the moon at one and and the sun at the other and all violence in between. A journey to and through hell.

16% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

He uses simile for almost everything description – things are “like” other things, but not exactly. They’ve ridden out beyond the ending of the world to the very beginning of the world, lawless, chaotic, death everywhere. Even the sun is a lumbering beast that squats and pulses malevolently. Death, death, death.

Yet it’s somehow beautiful: Orion described as a giant electric kite, the lightening, the energy.

5% done with Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

The boy starts off pale and thin but is somehow made into something stronger and more brutal through the nature of the ground itself. Rain falls for days and turns the ground to mud which imbues him with an almost superhuman strength. But it also ties people to the land and shows how fragile and dirty and brutish existence is. Violence everywhere.