Blood Meridian turns 25; Put On Your Party Hats—Now

Cormac McCarthy’s unforgettable Blood Meridian turned twenty-five this year. Dreary renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ are still pouring in. Last month, Modern Library released a deluxe hardcover edition of the book, updating its typeset, refurbishing its cover with Salvador Dali’s appropriately desolate Phantom Wagon, and reinstating Harold Bloom’s insightful, adulatory essay (“McCarthy is the worthy disciple of both Faulkner and Melville”) to the book’s introduction. Blood Meridian fans at Texas State University celebrated as well during what, I imagine, was an especially bleak Halloween, as members of the McCarthy Society held their annual convention on campus, paying special attention to Blood Meridian’s quarter centennial. There’s even an upcoming film adaptation scheduled for release in 2011 with Pacific Northwest director Todd Field (Little Children, In the Bedroom) manning the camera. Something to look forward to…er, or dread, depending on how much you like film adaptations of books.

Of course, plenty of books turn twenty-five and are just as bad as when they first appeared in print. What matters on anniversaries such as these is whether the novel still says anything, if its words hold together. For those who’ve never had the distinct pleasure of exploring McCarthy’s American nightmare, now might be great time to see if it does anything for you. For those who have, dig out your dog-eared copy and get ready to lose another week’s worth of sleep.

A searing meditation on the immanent nature of human depravity, Blood Meridian follows the Kid, a young itinerant on the Texas-Mexico border who stumbles his way into a roving gang of mercenaries known as the Clantons. Initially hired by local farmers as protection from Apaches, the Clantons soon reveal themselves to be an indiscriminate force of violence wanting only to devour.  At their dark center is the Judge, a character of both brilliance and ruthlessness, whose insatiable appetite for destruction drags the Kid, the gang, the novel, to an inevitable and terrible end.

Charged with extreme violence and unparalleled poetry, Blood Meridian is McCarthy at his aesthetic peak; at turns transcendent and revolting, lucid and disorienting, he dives deep into a distinctly American heart of darkness.