Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 337 pgs.
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Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, which was the January book club selection, is based on historical events along the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s involving the Glanton Gang that scalped many, engaged in mercenary acts, and sought their fortunes. Led by John Glanton, who fought for Texas independence during the Mexican-American War, the gang murdered Indians and Mexicans alike. Readers should expect this book to be brutal and violent. There is no way around it with this subject matter, and much of the violence has little to no purpose other than to garner wealth and property for the gang members.

“The judge watched him. He began to point out various men in the room and to ask if these men were here for a good time or if inded they knew why they were here at all.

Everybody dont have to have a reason to be someplace.

That’s so, said the judge. They do not have to have a reason. But order is not set aside because of their indifference.” (pg. 341-2)

The kid is the main protagonist here, and he stumbles into the gang after wandering for some time. Readers will not view him as a hero, and in many ways he is an anti-hero because he is morally ambiguous like many characters in westerns. The focus on the bloodshed and the meanderings of this gang through the desert and mountains is a surface reading of the novel, the central character and theme is related to “God”, “destiny,” and the order of the universe, which the judge clearly says encompasses more than can be understood by the human mind. Some mysteries are perpetual, but he reminds us to never forget that there is an order and a reason behind even the most chaotic and mundane events.

Like the kid, the readers is forced into a world where violence is the norm and it just is, without any moments of morality or kindness present. In this world, how can the kid strive to understand a wider picture, learn to review his role in that violence, and come to any other conclusion than human kind is animal-like in its brutality?

While there are allusions to Christian traditions, such as the burning bush, there seems to be a subtext about relying too heavily on the stories/tales of “leaders” — whether they are religious or otherwise — because they oftentimes are lies (like the early tales told by the judge). The judge even keeps a ledger, which makes readers reflect on who is keeping that ledger and why? Is it God, Satan, or someone else, and does it really matter who? Moreover, the final scenes of the book call to mind Shiva’s Tandava, a violent and dangerous dance related to the destruction of the world in order for creation to flourish. It seems McCarthy is using a mesh of myths and religions to bring his points across about the violent birth of America.

The narrative is distant on purpose, but following the kid throughout gets difficult, and the number of bloody events could have been pared down significantly to demonstrate the points the author wanted to bring across. The strongest character in the novel is not the antihero but the judge, his antagonist. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy could have been a much stronger novel with some editing.

Book Club Discussion:

As I was more than halfway through this one, I attended the discussion and planned to finish it after the meeting. Many liked the book well enough, though some said the narrative had their eyes/brains glazing over if read too quickly. Others found a bunch of theories to postulate on, including one where the Judge Holden appeared to be Satan or Satan-like because he was very good at a great many things.

Upon further discussion and review, it seems as though McCarthy took a lot of his events from those in My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain, who claimed to be a member of the Glanton Gang. Some scholars have said that the Kid in McCarthy’s book could be Chamberlain. Judge Holden is supposed to be a historical figure, but the only references to him are in Chamberlain’s book.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

The Road

About the Author:

Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

His earlier Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine’s poll of 100 best English-language books published between 1925 and 2005 and he placed joint runner-up for a similar title in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner.

In 2009, Cormac McCarthy won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the PEN American Center.

Guest Interview: Rock Band Glossary’s Joey Knieser Gets Literary by Vicki Keire

While I often talk a lot about books, poetry, writing, and author and publishing events, I rarely talk about music here, even though it is one of my passions.  I could go on and on about the reasons I love certain bands and certain genres of music, and why I dislike other bands and other genres of music.  However, rather than listen to me ramble on about my tastes and thoughts, I thought I’d share with you an interview from Vicki Keire with Glossary‘s Joey Knieser and his thoughts on books.  (Click on the band name for a few YouTube videos of their songs)

Without further ado, please welcome Vicki and Joey.

The summer before I met Joey Knieser of the rock band Glossary, I was hundreds of miles from home writing the novel that would eventually become The Chronicles of Nowhere (volume one released today through Curiosity Quills Press.) I spent the weeks preceding our meeting wandering beaches bleached white as bone, watching as BP oil-choked kelp rolled in and strangled the shoreline.

Armed only with a battered laptop, I propped it open and listened to my modest music library while watching the waves, waiting for them to carry away the personal disaster that had driven me here. That’s when Glossary started to haunt me. One album in particular became a favorite, on almost constant repeat: their album Feral Fire, with the aptly named “Your Heart to Haunt” in heavy rotation. If the band hadn’t planned a stop in my hometown that summer, I’m not sure I would have come home. But come they did, and I had the genuine pleasure of both hosting them in my home and seeing them play one of the songs most influential to my writing. Naturally, Glossary is at the top of my list when I think about writing and music, and how, for me, the two often intersect.

I caught up with guitarist/ singer-songwriter Joey Knieser to find out if books had a reciprocal power with musicians. Joey, along with most of the band, lives in Murfreesboro, TN, just outside of Nashville. He graciously agreed to answer questions on everything from his favorites books to the impact of the digital revolution on books and music:

Q: What books are you reading now or want to read?

A: I am currently in the middle of reading Tom Franklin’s novel, Hell at the Breech. I’d like to read the rest of Tom Franklin’s stuff. There are a couple Walker Percy books that I haven’t read, and I hope that I will be able to some day.

Q: What are some of your all time favorite books?

A: My all-time favorite books are Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  Just like the music I seem to go back and listen to over and over again, these classic books just seem to have in them something that appeals to me. You could pick up these two books at any time and read a couple sentences, and before you know it, you’re back into reading it for the millionth time. Being a Southerner, these books have become really important to me.

Q: Do you prefer eReaders or “regular” books, and why?

A: I prefer eReaders because I’m legally blind, and before the eReader, I was limited in what I could read. I had to read only what I could find in large print. But now, with an eReader, I can read any book by just increasing the size of the font.

Q: Do you think the digital revolution will have similar effects on the book industry as it has had on the music industry?

A: Absolutely. It will have the same effect in that content is delivered directly to the customer, which, as a result, changes the current business model that both those industries have had up to this point. In the music industry, there seems to be less and less of an importance to have major labels. In the same way, in the book publishing industry, it seems that the major publishing companies have less and less importance. The digital revolution has put the power in the hands of the artist. The way an artist can connect with an audience is simple and direct. The only problem the artist will have now is to find their audience.

Q: Your album Feral Fire got its name from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. What about the novel appealed to you?

A: The quote from the novel had little to do with the novel itself. I liked the novel, but they were two words that poked out to me. I thought the alliteration had a real sense of longing. I could never really get that title out of my head while I was writing the songs for the album. It seemed like “feral fire” had a sense of longing and desperation, and basically I felt the songs on the record reflected those emotions.

Q: Are any of your songs influenced by books, and if so, which ones?

A: There are several. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to a church and they sing a hymn that talks of heaven being, “the sweet forever.” I thought that was a great way to describe eternity. I used that phrase to actually title one of my songs in Feral Fire. I did write “Adalina” after I read The Sun Also Rises, because the song deals with a man that can’t have the woman that he wants much like the narrator in The Sun Also Rises can’t have Lady Brett. I actually used a line in “Adalina” that is straight from the book: “of all the ways to be wounded.” I just used it in the same way that Hemingway does, that there are a million ways to be wounded in this world, but that one person you love so much doesn’t love you the same way, and that’s the deepest sort of pain you’ll ever experience.

Q: What particular genres interest you?

A: Being a Southerner, I’m always drawn to Southern writers. Southern goth, too. Anything that deals with the issues of Southern culture and identity, books that deal with the Southern culture and way of life.

About the Band:

Glossary just released its seventh album, Long Live All of Us, available from This Is American Music and Last Chance Records. Glossary has been featured on NPR’s World Café, mentioned in USA Today, Paste magazine, and numerous other acclaimed music publications while being routinely featured on too many “Best of” lists to count. The band consists of bassist Bingham Barnes, singer/percussionist Kelly Knieser, pedal steel/guitarist Todd Beene, drummer Eric Giles, and frontman/ guitarist Joey Knieser.


Vicki Keire

About the Interviewer:

Vicki Keire grew up in a 19th Century haunted house in the Deep South full of books, abandoned coal chutes, and plenty of places to get into trouble with her siblings. She has taught writing and literature at a large, football-obsessed university while slipping paranormal fiction in between the pages of her textbooks. She is the author of the bestselling Angel’s Edge series, which includes Gifts of the Blood and its sequel, Darkness in the Blood. She is included in the Dark Tomorrows anthology with J.L. Bryan and Amanda Hocking and now writes full time. You can find her online.


This post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012.

Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions – a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google.

Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press’s website.

Down The Desolate Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a highly praised journey involving the relationship of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world. The journey itself is not as significant as the budding relationship between the boy and his father, who remain nameless throughout the novel. The dark, ashen road is cold, dreary, and yet full of hope as the boy and his father push onward toward the coast. I haven’t given much away about the plot and really there isn’t a whole lot for me to give away in this review.

In fact, the plot plods along, but what kept me reading was the mood as it was set by the language McCarthy chose to depict the road, the journey, and the interactions between the main characters. The suspense builds initially when you wonder about where the boy’s mother is and what happened to her, but once that is resolved, you wonder what the resolution to the book might be.

***Semi-Spoiler Alert***
This really isn’t going to be major spoiler, but I wanted to provide my impressions of the book overall and what I think the resolution is to the novel, if there really is one. The boy and the man journey down the road worrying about the bad people who are cannibals. The initial relationship between the two is a father dictating (of sorts) to his son about what to do and how to react to various scenarios. However, as the relationship matures, the boy convinces the father not to be so closed and provide food to a man less fortunate than them, even though the old man states he would not have done the same.

The boy is hope throughout the book; a hope that humanity will again mature beyond its basic instincts to merely survive. The man slowly realizes the boy has some good points about how he should act and treat others, but as a father, his main concern is the safety and health of his son. These sometimes disparate objectives conflict with one another in subtle ways.

***End Spoiler Alert***

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it was not one of those books that I instantly loved or enjoyed. Then again, I’m not sure you are supposed to enjoy the desolate environment McCarthy creates. I also had to stop often and read something less “depressing.” Too much desperate survival is not good for my psyche.

I did enjoy the book, the characters, and the ultimate resolution to the book, though I wondered why the family did not stay in the stocked shelter they found despite the possible dangers the strategy posed.

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