On one level, the novel is a wild hairy adventure story like no other. I reminds me of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville, in scope, in effect, and in its multiple layers.
On another level, it is a journey into the unconscious, and it reminds me of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, the German painter. "Blood Meridian" is a phantasmagoria of violence. I doubt if anyone has nightmares as vivid or as horrific.
At one point, one of the characters describes this band of killers as men of good heart. My God, how bloodthirsty they are. How could they be of good heart?
Their leader, John Glanton, is a brave man, a decisive and competent leader, admirable in some ways. Yet you've never met a more enthusiastic butcher of men. And women. In some ways, he is heroic, in others a devil revelling in hell.
Michael Herr, in a cover blurb, says the novel is about "regeneration through violence." I don't know if I'd put it that way. But there is a sense of redemption about all this, and I don't quite know why or how that works.
The novel is Biblical in scope, in tone, and in its use of language. It is a hot steamy cauldron of meaning and image and language, horrid and profound and wonderful.
Its technique is almost all narrative. That is, we are told the story, and the events are related mostly rather than rendered. It is an unusual mode. But it works well. We are lulled to sleep in this dream. It won't remind you of any crappy bestseller I have ever tried to read.
There is tremendous energy and invention in the language and seemingly in the events, although "Notes On 'Blood Meridian'" by John Sepich claims that "Blood Meridian" is an historical novel, taken largely from "My Confessions" by the decorated Union Army General Samuel Chamberlain, and from other historical sources.
Sepich says that the exploits of Glanton and his band are presented "with remarkable fidelity." In other words, Cormac McCarthy seems to have used history as a template or an outline, a basis for his creation. Perhaps in much the same way Melville used his experiences on whaling ships as a basis for his novel.
"Blood Meridian" is, in my opinion and that of others, the greatest American novel written by a living writer. It ranks right up there with Faulkner and Melville. Perhaps even Shakespeare.
I recommend it highly.