Not long into reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth: grit. Yes, the grit and sand covering the land and characters of Blood Meridian are all over you, too. It’s on your tongue, in your pores, and coating your clothes.
You don’t read Blood Meridian. You experience it, every dirty, bloody, nasty bit of the book.
A talented novelist makes you believe their fictional world is real. McCarthy does this in Blood Meridian as well as any writer.
It doesn’t matter if McCarthy didn’t live in 1849 when the book is set. Or that Hollywood Westerns could have been some of his source material for the book. What matters is that you believe the place and people in Blood Meridian are real.
You believe this so much that you feel every paragraph of desperation and fear and violence that echoes like a gunshot in a canyon throughout McCarthy’s book.
Another reason practitioners of writing often laud Blood Meridian could be McCarthy’s manipulation of the English language.
It’s as if McCarthy is the boy with the spoon in “The Matrix”. The boy bends a spoon by looking at it. He explains, “Only try to realize the truth…There is no spoon.”
McCarthy doesn’t adhere to standards of grammar, punctuation, or definitions. He instead uses words however he needs to tell his story. He is able to bend the language because to him it isn’t a language. It’s a vehicle to his story.
Take this passage, for example: “All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.”
This is a sentence. It contains English, words you understand. But they’re adeptly sewn together in ways unimaginable to most of us. Pieced together phrases such as this make Blood Meridian a masterful work of art. The book is a classic.
Overview of Blood Meridian
- The kid – Protagonist; A runaway teenager from Tennessee, The kid makes it to Texas. He eventually falls in with a gang led by Glanton. The kid is an antihero. He’s no saint, but he does show small amounts of compassion and decency throughout the book.
- The Judge – Antagonist; He’s a psychopath that comes across as nearly supernatural. He has no conscience and shows no remorse. He seems omnipotent and unstoppable.
- Glanton – Leader of the gang, he’s nearly as mean and violent as The Judge. But he’s not quite as smart. If The Judge is Satan, Glanton would be his right-hand demon. The character is loosely based on the real-life John Joel Glanton.
- Toadvine – A character The kid meets that puts him on the path to joining The Judge and Glanton’s group.
- Tobin – An ex-priest, is a paradox. He maintains some religious beliefs while killing and committing crimes alongside the rest of the gang.
- David Brown – He wears a necklace made of human ears. That gives you an accurate picture of this character’s makeup.
Plot: The kid runs away from home and ends up in Texas. He meets Toadvine, a relationship that leads both to join Glanton’s gang. The gang is hired by Mexican authorities to hunt Apaches. The gang journeys north and west across Mexico, killing and plundering as they go. They work their way to present-day California and Arizona. The gang takes over a ferry crossing on the Colorado River, a move that ends disastrously for most of the gang.