When reading through the New York Times' heavy-breathing review of Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, The Road, we remembered again how much we liked McCarthy's canonical Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West. Too cheap to buy The Road in hardback, we instead picked up his second-most recent in paperback, No Country for Old Men. It was nice enough — plenty of trademark spare prose, nihilistic pontification, spurts of mechanistic violence — but it seemed a more refined, almost more polite version of its famous predecessor. Blood Meridian is one of the most gruesomely violent books you're likely to read — it covers a band of murderous cowpokes and thugs in the mid-19th-century Southwest U.S. and Mexico — and it's a manly book of manly machismo. All of which makes it understandably repellant to many. But after recalling it so fondly while reading more recent McCarthy, we picked it up again for a quick skim, and who cares if it's nostalgic sentimentality. Blood Meridian still kicks your ass on every page.
A great many people are just as devoted to this book as others despise it, and it's been a subject of much dancing-around in terms of somehow extracting a movie from its pages. For years, it was rumored that Tommy Lee Jones had bought the movie rights, but nothing ever came of it — even the vestigial IMDB page has disappeared. It's hard to imagine how American audiences in particular or any audience in general would react to the carnage of Blood Meridian, which is so intrinsic to its nature that a soft-pedaled version would make no sense at all. We're not just talking Saving Private Ryan wartime gore. We're talking wanton cruelty and evisceration and depravity against men, women, children, animals, you name it. One could pretend that sadism festivals like the Saw franchise have desensitized moviegoers to violence and torture, but nobody — even a fan of the book — could lightly watch infants getting their brains bashed out in a riverbed.
Without bothering to get into a plot synopsis, let us close by saying that McCarthy's maximalist prose style will be a certain turn-off to Raymond Carver fans. Imagine Biblical resonance and lyricism with access to a dictionary-thesaurus created by redneck savants of the period, yet somehow constructed with Western austerity and concrete detail. Few readers have an indifferent reaction to Blood Meridian, as you will either devour it in a day or toss it aside after ten pages. If you do get into it, you will thank us. Profusely.
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