When I first saw the movie Pulp Fiction, I remember thinking that certain lines had been moved with regard to popular acceptance of scenes of violence. Ultimately, however, the violence contained in Pulp Fiction and most mainstream Hollywood productions is more or less directly related to the plot; it is rarely gratuitous. Of course, the plotlines of horror and slasher movies revolve around depictions of violence, making them pillars of the plot itself. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, is unique in that the extreme violence depicted is not so much related to plot as it is the very nature of the characters and the scene in which the story is set. "Man is a violent (and godless) animal by nature" appears to be the premise out of which the entire novel develops. And it convinces.
Most of the story follows action on and around the Mexican border in the years 1849-1850, when violent encounters between whites and Native Americans were commonplace. McCarthy creates characters that readers of his other work might recognize, at least in broad outline. "The kid" is the unnamed protagonist--a runaway from Tennessee with excellent gunfighting and survival skills, which lend themselves to violence only when necessary for the kid's protection. Judge Holden is the novel's antagonist and represents the embodiment of the violent nature of man. Large and hairless, Holden and the kid are sometimes placed together among the same group, but the reader is always conscious of the tension between them. In the end, it is the kid's capacity for pity and sympathy that places him opposite the judge both physically and philosophically.
Not surprisingly, Blood Meridian is written in a style that emulates (and sometimes parallels) the powerful scenes of Revelation. In McCarthy's version, however, it is the weak and innocent that are found wanting and are condemned to violent death. Indeed, the end of the novel is as ambiguous and as apocalyptic as any I have ever read, wherein [**Spoiler Alert**] the reader can only be certain that violence has triumphed and firmly established itself as the nature of the world. Precisely how that triumph is accomplished (whether by violent murder or homosexual domination) is a subject of some debate.
I think that I have never been quite as unsettled by a novel as I have by Blood Meridian (though The Road comes close). It is considered by many to be McCarthy's greatest work and one of the most important works of our generation. Ultimately, I think that McCarthy's genius lies in his ability to dig deep into the places that many of us are afraid to go and show us the logical outcomes of some of our most troubling feelings and capacities as human beings. As for Blood Meridian itself, it was so very troubling to me as to practically defy description or categorization. I can only say that it is the work of a genius; whether I can count it among my favorites (or even most respected) will take a considerable amount of further contemplation. Blood Meridian begs for discussion, and I am very interested in what all of you have to say.
Good review. I read this one soon after reading the Road and I really wasnt sure how I felt about it. On the one hand it was so violent to the point of becoming mundane so how could I like a book like this? But then there was such wonderful prose and describtions and its still a book I think about and it has stayed on my mind so how can I possibly dislike it.ReplyDelete
It still divides me now.
There is an interesting YALE lecture on UTube on this book which I found very interesting.
Yes, wonderful review. I started this book a few months ago and still intend to finish it at some point, but I just have such a hard time stomaching the violence. Do you think it's worth finishing?ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jessica. It's a real problem for me too. McCarthy is such a wonderful wordsmith, but his descriptions of human on human violence leave me stunned. I had the same reaction to the people in the cellar in The Road, but Blood Meridian was like a constant barrage of scene after scene. And I think it's message was much darker than The Road (which is saying a lot). I'll definitely check out the Yale lecture. Thanks for passing it along.ReplyDelete
Ingrid, I think I would think twice about recommending the book to someone who has no stomach for violence, but once you've begun it, I think you have to finish it. The ending is some of the purest dystopian prose that I have ever had the pleasure (?) of reading. And it will leave you wondering just what happened even after you've finished.
Really enjoyed reading this - I gained a much clearer view of the novel than I had when I finished it a couple of years ago. I noticed you were careful in your assessment: "It is considered by many to be McCarthy's greatest work..." But do you? "I can only say it is the work of a genius..." But did you enjoy it?ReplyDelete
I think those stuck out for me because I've never had such a negative reaction to a novel as I did to Blood Meridian. I hated the book - probably because I was mad at it for not allow me to penetrate its meaning. And the ambiguous ending was the nail in the coffin (literally?).
You're right - it's definitely a novel that needs to be digested slowly and discussed in detail at each stage.
Interestingly enough (or not), I absolutely loved The Road...
Great questions, Greg. The truth is that I'm really conflicted on this one. It has the feel of a great work, and I can appreciate it as such from a distance, but I can't say that I really enjoyed reading it. I agree that The Road was a much easier and enjoyable read, although parts of that too made me uncomfortable. I think the difference lies in the ultimate message of each work. Whereas The Road ends with a glimmer of hope and a glimpse of the better parts of human nature, Blood Meridian is very definitely a triumph of the cult of violence over compassion. And McCarthy's portrait is so accurate that it's truly unsettling. I think it will take a lot more distance before I can judge Blood Meridian with any sort of objectivity.ReplyDelete
That is a great point about the difference between Blood Meridian and The Road - the glimmer of hope vs. descent into violence and chaos.ReplyDelete
I get the feeling that McCarthy really is a dark soul, who would rather end his stories in tragedy (Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men), but he recognizes that hope sells and (sometimes) alters his stories accordingly. But I really haven't read all or even most of his work. Maybe you're in a better position to judge?ReplyDelete
Hey Patrick, thanks for encouraging me to finish this book, I just got through to the end last night. Wow ... that last scene was pretty bone chilling. I'll be writing a review of it within the week on my blog, and if you don't mind I'll throw in a link to your post. Thanks again.ReplyDelete
Thamk you, Ingrid, for the excellent treatment of a difficult novel. Yours is the type of detailed analysis that it deserves. I'm glad I could be a part of it. And thanks for the link too!ReplyDelete
Awesome novel! Anything by McCarthy is simply brilliant! My favorite is "Outer Dark." After my reading of Thomas Hardy's novels, I am fundamentally convinced that McCarthy is this age's Hardy. What pathos, what drama!ReplyDelete
I couldn't agree more. I need to pick up "Outer Dark," I think. I've heard very good things about it. McCarthy as a modern-day Hardy ... what a perfect comparison.ReplyDelete
I really enjoyed your review of this book because it is one of the most unique novels I've ever read in many ways. I too was "unsettled" by the book, but that is clearly McCarthy's goal in this kind of writing. What I find most baffling and genius is the stark juxtaposition of the awful, brutal content with the breathtakingly beautiful language. I read several pieces of it out loud to hear the marvelous tones and rhythms he created in the story. It is just fantastic writing, but once again, some of the images he creates are more graphic than I could ever have imagined. When I finished reading it, I was unsure how I felt about it. How can the words "I liked it" come out of your mouth when you've witnessed babies being slaughtered? But now that I've had time to reflect, I must say that I admire it as an innovative and genius piece of work. The connection between the gore and the characters and meaning is fascinating. I may be reviewing it soon on my blog, and I'd love your insight.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Amy. I am with you on this one. McCarthy's prose sometimes gives me goose bumps and sometimes makes me stare dumbfounded out into nothing. I've never read anyone quite like him, which is why he's so successful, I suppose. That he can write so beautifully about such abject violence is astonishing. I look forward to your review. I'm a new follower.ReplyDelete
I've just finished reading Blood Meridian and watched the two Yale lectures on Youtube. I find it hard to believe Patrick (above)when he says 'I can't say I enjoyed reading it'. How could you not? I savoured every word of McCarthy's stunning prose. The macabre language coated in dust and sand and blood glimmers in all McCarthy's sunrises and sunsets and glows in all of his black luminous nights (apologies for this last arty farty sentence). The beauty of nature contrasts wonderfully with the horror of man. McCarthy doesn't show us any of the kid's emotions and perhaps this is why the novel seems strangely hollow to me. Such is McCarthy's style and it is a style consistent in all elements of the book that leaves a perfect balance - a cloud of dust covering a being, a message, just enough so that we cannot quite make out what it is.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the comment. It's funny how time changes your perspective. I've told so many people that Blood Meridian is one of the best books that I've ever read (number 7 all time) that even I have a hard time believing that I didn't truly enjoy it. I think (going back 3+ years) that I truly enjoyed McCarthy's prose, but I was a bit unsettled by the overwhelming violence that it described. But maybe that's equivocating, and I should just admit that I loved it. Thanks again for bringing it back to my attention.Delete
The theme of the road was the opposite to blood meridianReplyDelete