Because I’m in a grumpy, coffee-deprived mood, I’m feeling especially murderous, therefore my recommendation today will be The Most Violent Book I’ve Ever Read, better known as Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy. Also, not coincidentally, it’s one of my favorite books ever. Cormac McCarthy, probably best known for writing All The Pretty Horses, The Road and No Country for Old Men, wrote this book in 1985, and despite not being conventionally popular (outside of McCarthy devotees), this is by far the best book he’s ever written, in my opinion.
On the surface it looks like a classic western: outlaws, Indians, scalpings, riding on horses through the Wild West. But don’t let that dissuade you, because this book is so much more than that. The loose story follows a teenager, only referred to as “The Kid,” who runs away from his father at which point he first meets the hairless, obese and ominous Judge Holden, who makes a horrific first impression. The Kid then joins a rough, marauding gang that hunts Indians for the bounty on their scalps. As the gang makes their way along the US-Mexico border, they encounter ruthless Indian mobs, desiccated villages and encoutner The Judge again, who becomes their (almost biblical) leader. He guides them, sometimes under the threat of death, throughout the rough and barren countryside, hunting both Indians and bystanders. Many of the characters meet gruesome or meaningless fates and the end of the novel speeds ahead several decades to a brawling barroom featuring a dancing bear that includes one of my favorite quotes from any book:
"There is room on the stage for one beast and one alone. All others are destined for a night that is eternal and without name. One by one they will step down into the darkness before the footlamps. Bears that dance, bears that don’t."
Throughout the book, the reader is bombarded with extremely graphic and senseless violence, over and over AND OVER again. However, layered within all the brutality and sadism are subtle themes and allusions that can be teased out and interpreted in many ways. This book provokes questions about the brutality of man, violence and war and perhaps the meaninglessness of the human race. Despite all the violence and bleak themes, I adored this book, and when all the dust settles, you’ll still be thinking about it for weeks afterward. It's not an easy read, in both subject matter and prose, but very much worth the effort.
****Warning: This book is not for the faint of heart or the morally sensitive.