"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner."
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Mexican government hired John Joel Glanton and his group of mercenaries to hunt Apache warriors, who had been attacking citizens. They paid Glanton for each Apache scalp he brought them. After realizing that the government could not distinguish the origin of the scalps, the gang began a murderous rampage, killing women, children, and anyone in their path.
In 1985, Cormac McCarthy published Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West - a novelization of the exploits of the Glanton Gang.
The book follows "The Kid" - a violent youth who flees Tennessee to the Texas-Mexico border and joins with Glanton's crew. The Kid participates in the gang's violence, but mostly serves as an observer to the other characters and the action of the novel.
The most intriguing character is Judge Holden, a giant hairless albino, who serves as Glanton's second in command, but is the one in control of the company. Holden is a huge character - physically and metaphorically. He is a philosopher, who believes that war is man's ultimate occupation, and he is a charismatic manipulator, who serves his own moral purposes. The Judge is a memorable villain - a pedophile and a liar and a murderer and a sadist. He may even be Satan himself and the wastelands of northern Mexico and the southwester US may be the Hell over which he reigns.
The Kid is left to fight for his life as well as ponder the morality of what he is a part of. He is the only gang member and one of the few characters in the novel who shows anything close to mercy or any contrition for the atrocities committed.
The story becomes more savage, brutal, and bleak as it progresses. Eventually, the violence seems inevitable, as do the consequences - both to the victims and the perpetrators.
This book does not romanticize the Old West as so many western novels do. It exposes some of the racism and destruction rationalized by a belief in Manifest Destiny. It shows the dehumanization of Blacks and Native Americans by the white conquerors and it reveals the lack of humanity by those conquerors.
Blood Meridian has no protagonist, no plot, and almost no character development. But it does have raw emotion. And it brought difficult questions to my mind: Is man fundamentally good? Does war have a place in society? Who is the sinner in a conflict where everyone is committing atrocities?
If you are looking for a Western story of cowboys and Indians and heroes and bad guys, this is not for you. If you are looking for a grim statement on man's nature, brace yourself and dive into this novel.