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Blood Meridian
Cover of Blood Meridian
Blood Meridian
Or the Evening Redness in the West
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"The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and Faulkner," writes esteemed literary scholar Harold Bloom in his Introduction to the Modern Library edition. "I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable."

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians and sell those scalps. Loosely based on fact, the novel represents a genius vision of the historical West, one so fiercely realized that since its initial publication in 1985 the canon of American literature has welcomed Blood Meridian to its shelf.

"A classic American novel of regeneration through violence," declares Michael Herr. "McCarthy can only be compared to our greatest writers."

From the Hardcover edition.

"The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and Faulkner," writes esteemed literary scholar Harold Bloom in his Introduction to the Modern Library edition. "I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable."

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians and sell those scalps. Loosely based on fact, the novel represents a genius vision of the historical West, one so fiercely realized that since its initial publication in 1985 the canon of American literature has welcomed Blood Meridian to its shelf.

"A classic American novel of regeneration through violence," declares Michael Herr. "McCarthy can only be compared to our greatest writers."

From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Chapter One Blood Meridian (1985) seems to me the authentic American apocalyptic novel, more relevant even in 2000 than it was fifteen years ago. The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and of Faulkner. I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable as Blood Meridian, much as I appreciate Don DeLillo's Underworld, Philip Roth's Zuckerman Bound, Sabbath's Theater, and American Pastoral, and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon. McCarthy himself, in his recent Border trilogy, commencing with the superb All the Pretty Horses, has not matched Blood Meridian, but it is the ultimate Western, not to be surpassed.

    My concern being the reader, I will begin by confessing that my first two attempts to read through Blood Meridian failed, because I flinched from the overwhelming carnage that McCarthy portrays. The violence begins on the novel's second page, when the fifteen-year-old Kid is shot in the back and just below the heart, and continues almost with no respite until the end, thirty years later, when Judge Holden, the most frightening figure in all of American literature, murders the Kid in an outhouse. So appalling are the continuous massacres and mutilations of Blood Meridian that one could be reading a United Nations report on the horrors of Kosovo in 1999.

    Nevertheless, I urge the reader to persevere, because Blood Meridian is a canonical imaginative achievement, both an American and a universal tragedy of blood. Judge Holden is a villain worthy of Shakespeare, Iago-like and demoniac, a theoretician of war everlasting. And the book's magnificence-its language, landscape, persons, conceptions-at last transcends the violence, and converts goriness into terrifying art, an art comparable to Melville's and to Faulkner's. When I teach the book, many of my students resist it initially (as I did, and as some of my friends continue to do). Television saturates us with actual as well as imagined violence, and I turn away, either in shock or in disgust. But I cannot turn away from Blood Meridian, now that I know how to read it, and why it has to be read. None of its carnage is gratuitous or redundant; it belonged to the Mexico-Texas borderlands in 1849-50, which is where and when most of the novel is set. I suppose one could call Blood Meridian a "historical novel," since it chronicles the actual expedition of the Glanton gang, a murderous paramilitary force sent out both by Mexican and Texan authorities to murder and scalp as many Indians as possible. Yet it does not have the aura of historical fiction, since what it depicts seethes on, in the United States, and nearly everywhere else, as we enter the third millennium. Judge Holden, the prophet of war, is unlikely to be without honor in our years to come.

    Even as you learn to endure the slaughter McCarthy describes, you become accustomed to the book's high style, again as overtly Shakespearean as it is Faulknerian. There are passages of Melvillean-Faulknerian baroque richness and intensity in The Crying of Lot 49, and elsewhere in Pynchon, but we can never be sure that they are not parodistic. The prose of Blood Meridian soars, yet with its own economy, and its dialogue is always persuasive, particularly when the uncanny Judge Holden speaks (chapter 14, p. 199):

    The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his...
About the Author-
  • Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in1933 and spent most of his childhood near Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Air Force and later studied at the University of Tennessee. In 1976 he moved to El Paso, Texas, where he lives today. McCarthy's fiction parallels his movement from the Southeast to the West--the first four novels being set in Tennessee, the last three in the Southwest and Mexico. The Orchard Keeper (1965) won the Faulkner Award for a first novel; it was followed by Outer Dark (1968), Child of God (1973), Suttree (1979), Blood Meridian (1985), All the Pretty Horses, which won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for fiction in 1992, and The Crossing.

Reviews-
  • Ralph Ellison

    "McCarthy is a writer to be read, to be admired, and quite honestly--envied."

  • Robert Penn Warren "McCarthy is a born narrator, and his writing has, line by line, the stab of actuality. He is here to stay."
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