The International Writers Magazine: Review
Blood Meridian of The Evening Redness in the West
by Cormac McCarthy
If the spate of McCarthy adaptations for the big screen over the last couple of years is any sign, then the author – almost canonical within the American Literary crowd – is finally being accepted by mainstream audiences. For those interested in topics on show in films like the excellent No Country for Old Men, the could-have-been All the Pretty Horses and current Oscar favorite The Road, Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West, published by Random House, McCarthy’s fifth book, should come as recommended – though forewarned – reading. When it first came out in 1985, Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West received lukewarm reviews and apathetic popular response. But since then it has grown in reputation and is now canonized as one of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century.
The novel traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen year-old Tennesseean who stumbles in a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving. The Kid joins a gang of Indian hunters, led by a man named Glanton and includes an enigmatic character known as Judge Holdon, a remarkable and iconic figure of the unbelievable and abominable capacity for evil in human beings – many critics no put on par with Melville’s Ahab and the comparison is justified.
The language of Blood Meridian is incredibly difficult; incorporating almost no punctuation marks, and making up its own spelling for many standard words. It uses Spanish conversations without translating them; the reader has to figure it out from the context (which McCarthy makes easily possible through his masterful storytelling). But beyond dialogue use of Spanish, the narrative also incorporates various writing techniques and the genre of the Western, showing a deft hand at playing with both. The shiver inducingly powerful prose never weakens and the words sometimes become sheer poetry written in paragraph form as the novel goes about representing the landscape of the 1850’s American West.
Another hurdle to maneuver is its continuous and shocking depictions of violence, which defies all attempts at trying to understand or find any reasons or meanings – at one point Judge Holdon is seen playing with a small Indian child, which he saved from slaughter by his own troop, and then the next moment he scalps it and abandons its dead body on the dry desert wasteland. Blood Meridian is not an effect-driven gore-fest, like a Stephen King book or the type one finds in the typical slasher-movie, but goes well beyond that. Its violence must be accepted as is, as simply the evil acts all men are capable of, acts that in the novel echo with the effects of the magnificence and unembellishments of the epic landscape that they inhabit.
But it is in the landscape that Blood Meridian is truly unparalleled, and worth the effort needed to finish it. McCathy’s novel recreates the borderlands between America and Mexico deftly and beautifully, showing it as complete: a landscape that is hard and will never obey any artificial impositions of border (characters nonchalantly go to-and-fro between the American and Mexican borders). Its people are a people of the country called the American West, not citizens of any arbitrarily created nation. It is a place that is like a dream in its extreme beauty and absolutely silence towards articulated meanings, it is a place that is filled with the violent and the sublime, the abominable and the flawed. It is the place that lies at the heart of the time of the American frontiers and the idea of America’s manifest destiny.
© Shakil Rabbi Jan 2010