Blood Meridian is such a revision of the Hollywood westerns of the 40s and 50s that it’s an overcorrection. Gore permeates the book and might as well stain the pages red—the story is all chaos and blood. The writing stylistically ranges from depths scarcely more than primitive grunts to the abstract and noble heights of Shakespearean combat. For its unusually stark carnage and the sheer virtuosity of its language I suspect Blood Meridian will long resist and invite interpretation.
Attempting to explain a story like this is probably as futile as trying to fully explain America itself. It’s vastly too cynical to represent the America’s ideals because the country has always been fundamentally hopeful, which the western traditional represents; it can only represent the ugly excesses of America that, although I would like to deny their existence, are a part of the national character and past. We worship hope and freedom, but also, like all large cultures, war. Blood Meridian is a totem to the war idol, a severed head on a pike that is the standard we instinctively rally around. It is a reminder of what we don’t want to be and sometimes are.
This makes Blood Meridian a hard read in terms of content as well as style—as opposed to Faulkner, who is difficult solely through style. In the introduction to my edition, Harold Bloom calls McCarthy the heir of both Faulkner and Melville, making me wonder if that is just shorthand for inscrutable. I don’t want to work to read when it’s not absolutely necessary. McCarthy’s aversion to punctuation irritated me, even if I understand that he was trying to make the text flow like a red river. Every time I have to stop reading so I can understand what’s modifying what in a sentence I am tugged out of the world, which may be for the best, considering the visceral description of killing.