Imagine that other books are like rock soup. Just water. And you want goulash. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, published in 1985, is the only meal that will satisfy. It reaches back to our older tongue (the Germanic, Old English side rather than the French, Latinate side) and does not read like any other novel of its time or since. Every sentence gorgeous and dense in its description of landscape and violence as landscape. The stark American Southwest extended into figurative realms that reveal our badness, the birth of America in war and with a future of endless war, told in language biblical and visionary.
I admit it sounds like crap, like something overwritten and straining, all fakery. And after I’d read it the first time, I still wondered if I’d had only the feeling of being flung without really going anywhere. But having read it six times now, I’m convinced that it’s our greatest novel—certainly it has given me the greatest pleasure I’ve had as a reader.
Blood Meridian doesn’t satisfy what we generally look for in a novel. The protagonist is unnamed and only one in a series and we don’t care about him. He’s struggling against an immense and improbable character called the Judge who is the devil, here to test “the kind of clay our hearts are made of.” There’s no drama or dramatic arc. Brutality is everywhere, and no one is likable. The overall vision is sour. And the Western is a garbage genre. But the Western is also essential to who we are, so perhaps it’s no accident that our greatest work should come from this. And it’s just sad that so many have read his novel The Road rather than Blood Meridian. The Road is rock soup. Have a meal instead.