Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

What I’m Reading: The Most Disturbing Book I’ve Ever Read

Halloween has come and gone. And frankly, I’m happy about it. First of all, I have alopecia and therefore am expected always to go as something that plays on the theme of baldness–Lex Luthor, Mr. Clean, Morpheus from The Matrix. But I’ve done all that and I’m over it. And I’m too old to dress up in a motley collection of my weirdest clothes and call it a costume. So, no dressing up.

What’s more, I don’t do scary. As in, I get scared easily. Granted, I did go to a haunted house this year with my girlfriend and some friends and I did agree to go first through the thing AND I didn’t defecate in my pants (too much). So, that’s a W. But normally, I don’t do scary.

A Disturbance in Your Soul

This brings me neatly to Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It’s not a scary book. There aren’t ghosts or clowns or Jack Nicholson smushing his head through a door or anything else you find in Stephen King novels. Instead, what you feel after reading the novel is a deep disturbance somewhere in your soul. This stays with you for days, weeks, years, until you read it again in the hopes of shaking the feeling, only to find that your re-read has only renewed your feeling of discomfort.

That is because the novel (the full title of which is Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West) deals with wars between new Americans moving west and the Native Americans whose land they are taking. It’s the worst, most difficult time in American history and McCarthy does nothing to dumb down.

The story follows The Kid as he tries to make his way as part of the Glanton gang, who were real and made their living scalp hunting across the Mexican-American boarder lands in the 1840s and 50s. There are battles, massacres, rapes and a descent into nihilism that makes Westworld look like a Disney cartoon. And, what’s more, it feels real. It’s not the noble John Wayne vs. the cutthroat Savages. Or “Conflicted White Army Captain finds new respect for Indian Chief after shared adventure.” It’s just Desperate vs. Desperate, as I imagine it would have really been.

It’s also all told in McCarthy’s rich and haunting vocabulary, against a backdrop of natural beauty that only makes the actions the men take within that landscape all the more disturbing. I’ve read every one of McCarthy’s novels and Blood Meridian is his best.

The Bald Judge

And speaking of alopecia, the main antagonist from the novel–Judge Holden, again a supposed real person–has a bad case of it. He also has a bad case of insanity, intelligence and ruthlessness. Not to mention a desire to subjugate as much of the world as he can get his hands on. He’s maniacal, horrifying and, in my maybe biased opinion, one of the best characters in American fiction. And by best I mean worst. He makes Anton Chigurh look like Minnie Mouse.

Who is this book for? Well, it’s not for the faint of heart. Or for those who like their books full of “scary” stuff. I suppose it’s for those brave souls who want to explore depravity, violence and the dark side of humanity. And for those who are interested in history, but not just history as depicted by Ken Burns.

For more about the book, visit Cormac McCarthy’s website.

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