Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cormac McCarthy is a prolific writer of novels, all of which reflect his ability to capture realistic local color and a dramatic sense of place, whether it is the Appalachia area of Tennessee as in The Orchard Keeper (1965), or the desert plains of the Southwest in Cities of the Plain. His style is characterized by sparse use of punctuation. By omitting quotation marks and avoiding the use of commas, colons, and apostrophes, he develops long run-on sentences that demand the reader’s full attention, a style that intensifies the energy and exactness of his words. English and Spanish are interwoven in patchwork fashion, providing a dual perspective for his prose style. His characters’ slow, laconic speech and monosyllabic exchanges are evocative of the time and place. With vivid acuity, McCarthy describes the eerie desolation of the plains and the august beauty of the mountains that surround them. He paints a glorious landscape and spatters it with bleeding horses, packs of wild dogs, blind musicians, traveling gypsies, corrupt politicians, and tragic love. It is a style of narrative discourse that has led him to be compared to William Faulkner.

Cormac McCarthy has been awarded grants from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the William Faulkner Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, and he received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981. All the Pretty Horses won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the best books of 1992 by Library Journal.