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I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I’ve read several of McCarthy’s other books–All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men among them–so I knew I wasn’t going to be reading a children’s story.  Even if I hadn’t known the type of books McCarthy writes, the subtitle of this book would have given it away–The Evening Redness in the West.  And the redness referred to isn’t the sunset.

Now, I’m used to murder and mayhem; after all, I’m writing a blog about mysteries, right?  But the number of dead bodies in Blood Meridian is beyond counting. The story is based on the Glanton Gang, a historical group of scalp hunters in 1849-50, immediately following the Mexican-American War.  The gang, led by John Joel Glanton, was hired by the Mexican government to kill marauding Indians and bring their scalps to the authorities to receive payment.  But soon the gang was murdering peaceful Indians and Mexican civilians to increase their totals and, as it appears to me, just for the joy of killing.  Eventually the government of Chihuahua offered a reward for the capture of the gang, turning them from semi-legal mercenaries to outlaws.

With a background story like that, Blood Meridian could hardly be sweetness and light.  But there’s not one character in the novel to whom I was drawn.  The Kid, who opens the novel, might have been that character.   After all, he comes from an abusive home from which he runs away at the age of fourteen, unable to read or write and without any skills except shooting.  He has to make his way in the world, and he does so by joining this para-military group.  But The Kid’s participation in dozens of ruthless killings robs him of any connection with this reader.  It was impossible for me to feel anything but antipathy toward him, toward Glanton, or toward Judge Holden, the book’s portrait of pure evil.

Yet the reviews of Blood Meridian are superlative.  No less a literary authority than Professor Harold Bloom of Yale University has declared it “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer.”

So this is my point, or rather my question.  Even if there is stirring, evocative language in such a book, some of it quite beautiful, is it possible for a reader to enjoy it, to recommend it, to feel that it has been a worthwhile reading experience, when that reader feels no empathy, no attachment, no sympathy for a single character in it? It reminds me of a time years ago when a friend had read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and said to me, “I feel as if I’ve just spent the afternoon with a murderer.”  Although Blood Meridian isn’t a mystery, enough blood flows through it for a dozen crime novels.

Frankly, at the end of  this book, when every character except one has been killed, I thought “serves them right.  Too bad the judge is still alive.”  And that’s not the way I want to feel at the end of a book.

So while I’m happy to air my opinion, I’d like to hear from you. Am I alone in feeling that there has to be some connection between a reader and at least one character in the book?  Or does no one else care about this?  Let me know.


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