Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood meridian is an epic western novel set in the mid 1800s, it is loosely based on historical events. It follows the adventures of "the kid", the young sort-of-protagonist that ran away from his home in tennessee into the hellish world of gruesome brutality around the southern border. The book focuses on the violence of the time, mostly following an outlaw gang and it's insane co-leader known as "the judge". This focus on brutal and depraved violence is a bit revisionist, turning the usual historical narrative on its head by portraying almost everyone involved as hopelessly prone to warfare and brutality.

The book is a somewhat similar experience to moby dick, McCarthy follows the kid similarly to how Melville follows ishmael, through vast spaces which contain many interesting events that happen in order as the characters venture through the space. Events and environments are presented in close and very well researched detail. This structure makes the book very immersive as it did in moby dick. Both books share a similar emphasis on immersing the reader in a specific time and place which the author has a deep appreciation for. There is also a character which is reminiscent of both captain ahab and the whale. The book is written in a very dissociative style which makes it very weird to try to follow, it will probably require multiple readings because of this. Scenes and events blend together and don't seem to flow or associate properly unless you read over it several times and exercise your best reading comprehension. Context will seem to be missing for many scenes but you'll have to realize that context isn't always necessary, that's where McCarthy's interesting and innovative style shines. But when you do manage to read it properly and comprehend its indirect and often subtle style of prose it offers an experience unlike any other. I'm not sure what the book means in some places, it seems that it is often trying to not have an ultimate meaning, the raw and unfiltered journey, the struggle itself is more important than any outcome in that sense. It relies very little on plot, often focusing on the experience and the virtuosity of its violence. The plot being relatively absent does contribute to that dissociative style and can often make the book seem uneventful, some patience on the part of the reader will be necessary there.

The most memorable part of the book is the judge, he is one of the most intimidating characters in all of fiction. The twisted worldview and unreasonably high agency he displays make him unforgettable. His role at the kid's antagonist is brilliantly executed and makes for a very interesting relationship. Despite his shenanigans he is still a believable figure that is compelling to read, he doesn't come off as a shallow villain like many similar characters in other fiction. His characterization is very well thought out and detailed while still being subtle in the right places. Its no wonder he's so iconic.

I highly recommend this book if you can stomach the constant violence and are willing to conquer a challenging writing style. It is certainly one of the greatest pieces of fiction to come out of America. It will immerse you in a highly detailed, atmospheric, historically accurate and gruesome depiction of the wild west and provide some extremely interesting and subtle character interactions. It celebrates the golden age of anarchy and lawlessnes that happened in that place and that time, while also criticizing it. If you can handle it.


SPOILERS BELOW


The terrifying and mythical portrayal of the judge is brilliantly executed. He epitomizes evil, almost like he is a supernatural force of pure evil. He is a genius that operates on a level far beyond anyone else in the book. He achieves anything he puts his mind to, he is also a complete psychopath with a twisted yet eloquent philosophy, so he tends to put his mind to very terrible things. The way that he interacts with those around him is easily the most memorable aspect of the book, he often seems completely absurd yet his characterization works and remains believable no matter what. He can be understood as a force which is simply inevitable given the lawlessness of that place and time. His antagonistic relationship with the kid is intense to read. The kid opposes unnecessary violence and is empathetic towards the victims of the gang, while the judge pressures him and tries to convert him to his depraved philosophy. The kid's morals and attitude are offensive to him, resulting in a very interesting relationship between the two. The judge believes that man's unavoidable fate is warfare, the absolute conflict of incompatible wills, which is what he means when he tells the kid that he came here for "the dance", a fateful and deadly conflict.

The judge asserts that the individual will of a man is only meaningful when it is exercised onto other men, might makes right. The details of your view are meaningless, all that matters is your ability to enforce it on others. Will is fated to be manifested over some other will, the correct will then is the one which succeeds in destroying other wills. When he loses patience with the kid he decides that it is necessary to manifest his will over the kid's. Where the kid believes that the judge is acting out of insanity, the judge believes that he is simply engaging in the fated conflict of wills where the kid must be conquered for the judge's view to be valid. Being raped and killed may confirm the kid's theory that the judge is simply insane. But then again, almost everyone in this world must be insane.

Another pattern to analyze is the significance of violence. Violence in blood meridian is portrayed as cyclic, an inevitability in human nature which will repeat itself often. Violence is the one quantifiable truth in the anarchistic and uncivilized world of the wild west. With violence being the only dominant force, the artistic perfection and optimization of violence becomes a prominent behavior in the characters of the book. When violence is all that there is, what else is there to do but perfect it? This is reminiscent of dante, the wild west becomes a sort of inferno where all effort is put towards the perfection of suffering and destruction.

Violence is also understood as something which is temporary, to be enjoyed while you still can. Eventually the "dance" will end, the wild west will become civilized. The book then depicts the height or golden age of violence and anarchy in the west, then predicts its collapse into civilization. It is almost tragic how the violence that everyone derived their personal meaning from is going to be lost. The book then is dedicated a lot to the remembrance of that wild west age, which is gone forever. We may never again see anything as utterly raw as that era, there was beauty in that, and some tragedy in its death.

The rest of the book is very good at evading analysis, McCarthy probably has had a good chuckle about that, but its still an amazing and impressive work despite me certainly not comprehending it entirely. It also lends itself to very subjective analysis, some ideas stand out to some readers more than others so everyone gets a unique takeaway from the book.