Critical Context

Outer Dark was Cormac McCarthy’s second novel; his first book, The Orchard Keeper (1965), had won the William Faulkner Foundation First Novel Award for 1965. McCarthy has always been grouped with other Southern “Gothic” writers because of his penchant for violent and dark stories. One of the charges most often brought against him is that the arcane, polysyllabic vocabulary he sometimes employs is in direct imitation of Faulkner and serves to obscure rather than enrich his work. McCarthy, however, is a dedicated and serious writer who has developed very much his own voice and worldview. The so-called Gothic qualities of his writings come from a profound belief in man’s spiritual and moral obligations. He is Catholic in background—he attended Catholic High School in Knoxville—and he infuses his Southern settings and characters with a stark religiosity. In this sense he is closer to Flannery O’Connor than to Faulkner.

Although appreciated more by critics than the general reader, McCarthy is one of the finest of modern American writers. His books since Outer DarkChild of God (1974), Suttree (1979), and Blood Meridian (1985)—have shown him to be unswerving in his vision and artistry.