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Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian
If it isn’t Suttree, this is probably McCarthy’s best work and certainly the one that propelled him to fame. This one is based on historical events that took place in the middle of the 19th century in what might be called the Old West. The main character has no name – he is merely the kid. He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. He drifts around the South-West, joining up with a mad former officer of the U.S. army that fought in the Mexican War, who is now the leader of a gang that raids the Mexican border area. The gang is attacked and wiped out by the Comanches but the kid escapes and drifts towards Chihuahua where he is captured by soldiers and thrown in jail. From jail he is recruited by a gang whose purpose is to hunt down and kill Apaches, led by the brutal John Glanton and the erudite but equally brutal Judge Holden. The band hunts and is hunted and, like the first band, meets its inevitable fate, though, once again, the kid escapes, despite getting an arrow in his leg, with the help of his companion, Toadvine.
This book is not for the squeamish and, indeed, it is the often brutal and bloodthirsty portrayal that McCarthy gives us here (as well as in some of his other works) that might account for why McCarthy has not had the recognition he so richly deserves. Anyone who thinks the Old West was pretty with men in white hats shooting down bad guys in black hats in open confrontations in the street à la Hollywood will not be comfortable with McCarthy’s book. Judge Holden is the complete antithesis of a John Wayne character. For the Judge, war is holy and while the biblical concept of evil is too naïve an idea for McCarthy, Holden takes his place in literature as a sort of literary Nero or Attila the Hun. Like the kid, he escapes the final battle at Yuma and we – and the kid – meet him again at the end where he may or may not kill the kid and where he seems to just go on, eluding his pursuers.
First published 1985 by Random House