And my thoughts are rather mixed, to be honest. Blood Meridian is, at times, written beautifully, with descriptive passages that made me shiver: McCarthy has a knack for representing such carnal and brutal violence with such eloquence that its expression is almost awe-inspiring. And that, I think, is McCarthy’s forte. I think by far his ability to describe events and images so vividly with a rare metaphor or set of words is what he does best. The problem is that everything else is… a little clunky. Very clunky at times, in fact.
Let’s start with McCarthy’s writing style, because it’s rather unorthodox. He uses punctuation very sparingly, choosing to narrate dialogue in the normal body of text, rather than using speech marks. And props to him, I don’t think there was a single instance wherein I was unsure who was talking. Having said that, there was multiple occasions where I lost the flow of the sentence due to the lack of commas. It works for the most part for him, but in particularly longwinded sentences, dealing with complex or multiple issues, a few more commas would have made all the difference.
On top of that, McCarthy uses a lot of uncommon words, and a decent amount of the dialogue is in Spanish with no translation. That was fine for me, as I studied Spanish for several years, so I could at least catch the gist of what was being said, and the dialogue herein is hardly crucial, but for people who know no Spanish, it seems a little redundant. Add to that, the sheer hoard of characters, several of which have two names, and the constantly changing cast, and occasional splitting of the characters, and you have a narrative that is kind of hard to follow.
There isn’t really a plot here. There’s definitely a journey at play, albeit a pointless and never-ending journey, and I get that that’s what McCarthy uses to explore the reality of life in the American West. And as for Blood Meridian’s status as an ‘Anti-Western’, I love it. I love that the novel subverts traditional representations of the western genre as glorious, and exciting, and instead presents a bleaker reality of endless violence, often with no purpose or outcome. That was great, and I think that also works for The Road, but while we’re comparing the two, The Road, I think works in its simplicity; it’s about a man and his boy traversing the decrepit, apocalyptic American wasteland. But there’s a story there between the man and his son, a really emotionally engaging one at that. Blood Meridian, on the other hand, follows a character referred to only as The Kid (although his name changes to The Man for a dozen pages at the end without warning, when he grows up) and a hoard of minor characters which come and go with little effect. I was sad to see a few character’s deaths, but they had little emotional impact compared to any more conventional books, where the characters are fleshed out properly.
I think, ultimately, the apparent simplicity of language, or, let’s say the limitations of it, work well for a simple, coherent narrative, which Blood Meridian isn’t. Blood Meridian is really complex, dealing with dozens of minor characters and events of violence, all of which have no real effect on anything, which I understand in terms of the genre, but narratively, doesn’t work so well for me.
I did really like the character of The Judge. I kind of wish he were more fleshed out, and less elusive, but then I kind of like the ambiguity of his character as a result. He seems to have an almost supernatural, God-like presence. Although if he were one character, it would clearly be the devil, although I find that a little narrow-sighted, and I’d like to think his character is more complex than a re-appropriation of the devil. In fact, I think the whole point of Blood Meridian is that there is no one embodiment of evil; evil exists in all of us and often needs no motive or explanation to rear its ugly head.
So, all in all, I don’t regret reading this novel. It’s written absolutely beautifully, if enigmatic at times, and although it lacks a real plot or story, I don’t think that detracts from its literary value. In fact, I think it would be rather ignorant to suggest that. However, in place of a fixed narrative, I think readers need something more. And I think Blood Meridian gives us something in place, but not quite enough emotional, or intellectual substance to warrant its length. I think if Blood Meridian had been maybe 200 pages, with some of its minor characters and a few events cut, it would have been a better read, with a little more coherence. If anything, it definitely compels me to read The Road again, or perhaps some other works of his. I would quite like to sink my teeth into No Country For Old Men. I’ll be sure to write my thoughts upon it when I do.