One of the most beautiful books that I’ve ever read is a novel featuring a bevy of scalpings, murders, rapes, and a tree of dead babies.
Most of you probably know of Mr. McCarthy’s work because of either the Coen Brothers’ brilliant film adaptation of No Country for Old Men or Oprah’s book selection, The Road—neither of which are harbingers of happiness and good endings, and thus often end up scaring everyone away from the rest of poor Mr. McCarthy’s fiction. Blood Meridian isn’t much different in terms of providing you with cheery material to cozy up with: in this novel we meet “The Kid,” a nameless protagonist who meanders from the mid-19th century Appalachian mountains into the Mexico-Texas borderlands where he takes up with the Glanton Gang, a (historically true) murderous paramilitary force sent out both by Mexican and Texan authorities to murder and scalp as many Indians as possible. Part of this brutal band is Judge Holden (also historically true), the best Satanic presence in a work of fiction since Milton cast the rebel angels into “darkness visible.”
Now, allow me a very brief digression: a friend of mine once said that Barry White could utter just about any phrase and make it sound smooth and sexy (“cheese sandwich,” whatever); I say that Cormac McCarthy is to unsettling literature what my friend proclaimed Barry White was to mundane phrases. McCarthy can describe anything—anything—and maintain a kind of biblical, epic aura around the language that will keep you utterly engrossed, even if he’s talking about something ordinary or horrifying. Observe two men caught suddenly in a desert hailstorm:
“Dust-devils stood on the horizon like the smoke of distant fires but of living thing there was none. They eyed the sun in its circus and at dusk they rode out upon the cooling plain where the western sky was the color of blood…That night they were visited with a plague of hail out of a faultless sky and the horses shied and moaned and the men dismounted and sat upon the ground with their saddles over their heads while the hail leaped in the sand like small lucent eggs concocted alchemically out of the desert darkness. (p. 152)”
This is how McCarthy talks about the weather—just imagine what he does with megalomaniacal warmongering psychopaths.
Click here to get a copy.