Cormac McCarthy McCarthy, Cormac (Vol. 101) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cormac McCarthy 1933–

(Born Charles McCarthy Jr.) American novelist.

The following entry provides an overview of McCarthy's career through 1996. See also Cormac McCarthy Criticism (Volume 4) and Blood Meridian Criticism.

McCarthy is regarded as an important contributor to the Southern Gothic tradition as exemplified by William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Connor. His novels are praised for their powerful, descriptive passages and for their extensive examinations of evil. His protagonists are typically either extreme outcasts or young adventurers confronted with tremendous adversities who struggle against a brutal, merciless world. Occasionally faulted for his recurring themes and character types, McCarthy has nevertheless been praised for his command of language. Charles McGrath observed: "Even his most staightforward passages have about them a shimmer of grandness—achieved sometimes by importing arcane vocabulary, sometimes by repetition or tinkering with word order, and sometimes just by stretching a sentence out with 'and's until it acquires the desired pace and gravity."

Biographical Information

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 20, 1933, McCarthy moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, at the age of four, and later attended the University of Tennessee. After completing his first year there, he served for four years in the U.S. Air Force. He returned to the university, then left in 1960 without a degree to pursue a writing career. When his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965, McCarthy had already been awarded a fellowship for a year of travel abroad by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A William Faulkner Foundation Award followed in 1965. A grant from the Rockefeller foundation in 1966 and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1976 helped the reclusive author make ends meet throughout his early writing career. Annie DeLisle, McCarthy's second ex-wife, recalls his aversion to steady jobs and comfortable lodgings: "We lived in total poverty … [and] we were bathing in the lake…. Someone would call up and offer him $2000 to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to say was there on the page. So we would eat beans for another week." A "genius award" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1981 enabled McCarthy to purchase a small home in El Paso, Texas, and move out of the motel in which he was living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has published several novels since then. In 1992 All The Pretty Horses (1992) won the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, and landed on numerous bestseller lists. The Crossing, published in 1994, is the second installment in McCarthy's "Border Trilogy," and like the other novels, it has been praised for its portentous themes but faulted for, among other things, being "derivative, sentimental and pretentious."

Major Works

The Orchard Keeper, McCarthy's first novel, is about an old man living in the mountains of Tennessee, and a young boy, John Wesley Rattner, whose father is killed by a whiskey bootlegger named Marion Sylder. A country bar burns down, young John saves a dog from an attack by a raccoon, and the boy is befriended by Sylder. Like all McCarthy's novels, The Orchard Keeper deals with a protagonist struggling against a brutal, hostile world. In Outer Dark (1968), Culla and Rinthy Holme are siblings who produce a child. Culla abandons the child in the woods and leaves his sister to fend for herself. Rinthy spends the rest of the novel wandering about looking for her child. Seeking work, Culla steals a squire's boots and subsequently flees four pursuers across a river in which he nearly drowns. The themes of murder, incest, and ignorance found in Outer Dark reemerged in many of McCarthy's later works. Child of God (1974) presents the story of Lester Ballard, a necrophiliac who drags corpses home, talks to them, and dresses and undresses them as he schemes to murder new victims. Man's capacity for evil is clearly demonstrated in such passages. In another passage, McCarthy describes the rape of a daughter by her father after he catches her having intercourse with a boy behind the barn. Providing readers with brutal and horrifying accounts, McCarthy's bleak vision of the world becomes appallingly real. To make Lester more empathetic, his farm is sold over his head, his cabin burns, and he is treated poorly at every turn. Here and in later novels, McCarthy uses the technique of portraying flawed or evil characters in a sympathetic way to achieve realism and authenticity. In Suttree (1979), McCarthy presents a character who has a degree of self-awareness and intelligence. Again, the setting of the novel is Tennessee, and Suttree, the hero, is a drunken loner who makes his living as a fisherman and resides on a houseboat. A floating body is discovered in the opening scenes and at the conclusion of the story Suttree returns to his houseboat to find a rotting corpse in his bed. A metaphysical theme runs throughout the novel, culminating when Suttree wanders about in the forest and undergoes a sort of transformation and rebirth. Foremost in Suttree are the themes of decay, death, and destruction, which were also prevalent in the earlier works. Blood Meridian (1985) is the violent and gory tale of "the kid"—a protagonist who finds himself in East Texas with renegade U.S. troops who are massacred by Comanche Indians. Falling in with American mercenaries after a stint in jail, the kid ventures into a gruesome journey filled with bloodshed, the defilement of corpses, and random slaughter. The dominant, towering, evil persona of Judge Holden further highlights McCarthy's theme of man's inhumanity to man. The novel is purportedly based upon actual people and events in history, making the violence especially unnerving. The setting of Blood Meridian departs from the Tennessee locales of earlier works, but the story follows McCarthy's pattern of using characters who struggle against a brutal, violent world. All the Pretty Horses carries on this tradition, as John Grady Cole leaves his home in Texas after the death of his grandfather and during the divorce of his parents. With his friend Lacey Rawlins, the two boys ride off into Mexico to experience a variety of adventures. John becomes entangled in a romance with a high-born, passionate, young girl named Alejandra, daughter of Don Hector and niece of a formidable aunt, Dueña Alfonsa. Relying on traditional Western props, All the Pretty Horses includes corrupt Mexican officials; a torturous jail term; long, dusty rides through the landscape; a murdered companion; and a fulfilling act of revenge at the conclusion. Following much the same story pattern of All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing focuses on two teenaged brothers, Billy and Boyd Parham, who leave their home in New Mexico and travel south. Billy traps a wolf and becomes determined to return her to Mexico; later he and Boyd attempt to recover horses stolen from the family ranch where their parents have been killed; and Billy returns to Mexico late in the novel to search for the missing Boyd. The Crossing contains a metaphysical theme apparent in the novel's abundance of fables, sermons, morality tales and figures who dispense wisdom. Combining elements of the picaresque adventure and metaphysical pilgrimage that were present in All the Pretty Horses, Suttree, Blood Meridian, and other novels, McCarthy weaves a riveting tale that comments on man's capacity for evil.

Critical Reception

McCarthy's early novels have not received much critical attention, and his first five books never sold more than 2,500 hard-cover copies in their first release. However, his later works have garnered more publicity, and he is emerging as a popular writer of bloody, violent, and richly detailed stories of the American West. McCarthy's prose style is a common topic among critics. Commenting on McCarthy's writing, Walter Sullivan states: "His prose is magnificent, full of energy and sharp detail and the sounds and smells of God's creation." McCarthy presents violence in his novels without motivation, reflection, or moral debate, and reviewers have found this discomforting. Despite the many shocking and gruesome scenes in McCarthy's work, critics recognize his skill in composing a story. Quoting a passage from Outer Dark in which a child is murdered, Edwin T. Arnold writes: "[T]he effect causes some to throw the book to the floor." Child of God produced similar reactions with its scenes of necrophilia and rape, yet critics praise it for its lyrical prose. McCarthy's skill at making evil characters empathetic fascinated Anatole Broyard, who states: "An evil character brilliantly portrayed will awaken our empathy—even sympathy—more readily than a good one in a pedestrian description." Other critics found the subject matter appalling. Suttree is another example of a novel filled with violence and unscrupulous, evil characters. While some would find McCarthy's cast of characters repugnant, McCarthy's vivid descriptions are both authentic and moving. In a review of Suttree, Guy Davenport remarks: "[I]t is a thoroughly believable novel, its every gesture authentic. There are multiple plot lines, a small town's worth of characters, and enough episodes for a four-hour movie." In All the Pretty Horses critics again found McCarthy's descriptive prose to be both his strong point and his downfall. Richard Eder writes: "McCarthy wavers between the lovely and the ludicrous… [L]oftiness gusts like a capsizing high wind, and the writing can choke on its own ornateness." The Crossing, like All the Pretty Horses, is concerned with the adventures of two young men, and critics have commented on McCarthy's repeated use of formulaic plot and scenery. Reviewer Robert Hass writes: "The Crossing is a miracle in prose, an American original … it is a tale so riveting—it immerses the reader so entirely in its violent and stunningly beautiful, inconsolable landscapes—that there is hardly time to reflect on its many literary and cinematic echoes." The overwhelming violence and brutality in McCarthy's writing is thus received differently by different critics. Yet there is consensus that there are deeper currents running throughout his work, and that the violence is not gratuitous. While McCarthy's florid prose is often faulted, he is considered a master stylist and peerless in his ability to provide authentic setting and mood.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Orchard Keeper (novel) 1965
Outer Dark (novel) 1968
Child of God (novel) 1974
Suttree (novel) 1979
Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (novel) 1985
All the Pretty Horses (novel) 1992
The Crossing (novel) 1994
The Stonemason (play) 1994

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Walter Sullivan (review date October-December 1965)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Worlds Past and Future: A Christian and Several from the South," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXIII, No. 4, October-December, 1965, pp. 719-26.

[In the following excerpt, Sullivan discusses The Orchard Keeper and the triumph of technology over man in the novel.]

The Orchard Keeper is Cormac McCarthy's first novel, but at thirty-three, McCarthy has a more mature mind and is a more finished craftsman than Miss Tyler. His prose is magnificent, full of energy and sharp detail and the sounds and smells of God's creation. The sense of fulfillment one gets from reading The Orchard Keeper is difficult to convey, because when the book is broken...

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Anatole Broyard (review date 5 December 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'Daddy Quit', She Said," in The New York Times, December 5, 1973, p. 45.

[In the following essay, Broyard discusses McCarthy's writing, and his ability to make readers empathize with evil, immoral characters.]

It's interesting to see how a good writer can make us care about a "bad" character. I mean bad in a moral sense. Talent, it seems, can find the humanity behind the inhuman, the pathos that comes from being out of step with the world, the loneliness, like death, that is the wages of sin. In spite of our increasing disillusionment in fiction and in the social sciences with homo sapiens, he is still all that we've got and only the most obdurate misanthrope...

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Guy Davenport (review date 16 March 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Silurian Southern," in National Review, Vol. 31, No. 11, March 16, 1979, pp. 368-69.

[In the following review Davenport discusses the Southern influences in McCarthy's novels, and praises the novelist's originality and skill in rendering the "outrageous and the macabre."]

In his fourth novel, Cormac McCarthy deepens his sounding of the Silurian depths of human nature. We are creatures designed and damned by the past. In an alley in Knoxville, all the animistic conjurations of West Africa thrive in their millionth year; the visionary mind of Wales and the stubborn will of Scotland, fueled by whisky and enraged by adversity, plunge the conduct of life in...

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Jim Crace (review date 2 May 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tribal Views," in New Statesman, Vol. 99, No. 2563, May 2, 1980, p. 682.

[In the following excerpt, Crace discusses categorizing Suttree as a "tribal" work, and faults the novel for lacking an "overall social and allegorical context."]

Cormac McCarthy's Big New Southern novel, Suttree, is also a fairly 'tribal' work if one can swallow the quaint dictionary definition of a tribe as 'a group of people in a primitive or barbarous stage of development'. His characters are city derelicts, rag pickers, possum hunters, and various junkyard angels who pass their days in bars (drinking Redtop beer and splo whisky) or in the work-house penitentiary...

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John Lewis Longley Jr. (review date Spring 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Suttree and the Metaphysics of Death," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 79-90.

[In the following article, Longley Jr. provides an examination of the novel Suttree, discusses McCarthy's writing style, and comments on McCarthy's place in the literary world.]

Gods and fathers what has happened here, good friends where is there clemency?

Suttree is standing in the ruin of a great house where he may or may not have lived as a child. He is surrounded by warped parquetry, buckled wainscot, ruined plaster. We are reminded of another waif, crying for what is lost:...

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Tom Nolan (review date 9 June 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 9, 1985, p. 2.

[In the following review Nolan discusses the "gruesome pilgrimage" undertaken by the protagonist and the writing style of the author.]

The apocalyptic landscape of Cormac McCarthy's harrowing and remarkable fifth novel is a blasted purgatorial heath, a hellish waste of thorns and buzzards where a malevolent sun squats and pulses like some great fire at earth's end. Across this tortured region of death and fear moves a crew of loathsome brigands as foul and evil as the arid waste they seem condemned to roam.


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Bill Baines (review date Spring 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Blood Meridian, in Western American Literature, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring, 1986, pp. 59-60.

[In the following review, Baines comments briefly on the "cruelty," "inhumanity," and "gore" present in Blood Meridian.]

Set in the Southwest of the mid-nineteenth century, Blood Meridian does not invite confusion with any romantic notion of the West prevalent in that century or this. Cormac McCarthy reconstructs that West as a Daliesque stage upon which characters and forces often resonant of Shakespeare and the Bible act out their roles. Loosely based upon, or more accurately, around the Yuma Crossing Massacre of 23 April, 1850, and some...

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Geoffrey O'Brien (review date 15 July 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cowboys and Nothingness," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXXI, No. 280, July 15, 1986, p. 48.

[In the following review, O'Brien discusses Blood Meridian within the context of the Western genre, noting differences and similarities between the two.]

The Western, being the simplest of genres, is also the most protean, ever ripe for new variations. For a moment in the '60s, Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone appeared to have arrived at its logical dead end, but writers today are taking a fresh look at the genre. It attracts like a power source, a link to the limitless. Reinventing the Western means re-inventing America, turning the creation epic upside down to come...

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John Lewis Longley Jr. (review date Autumn 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Nuclear Winter of Cormac McCarthy," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 62, No. 4, Autumn, 1986, pp. 746-50.

[In the following essay, Longley notes that every major episode in Blood Meridian is based on a real event in history. The critic comments upon the themes evident in every McCarthy novel: the "pervasiveness of evil," the "usurpation of authority," and the "denial of responsibility."]

Blood Meridian is not for the tenderhearted. In his fifth novel, McCarthy presents us with a new locale and a different time frame. The action in each of his first four novels is centered in East Tennessee and takes place in the middle of the 20th...

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Mark Royden Winchell (review date April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Inner Dark: or, The Place of Cormac McCarthy," in The Southern Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, April, 1990, pp. 293-309.

[In the following essay, Winchell maintains that the "pyrotechnical use of language that is McCarthy's distinctive signature as a writer" is the author's greatest achievement. Winchell also discusses the influence of Faulkner on McCarthy's work and comments at length on the "revulsion" and "horror" found in the novels.]

Cormac McCarthy may be the most highly respected unknown writer in contemporary southern letters. Vereen Bell estimates that McCarthy's five novels have sold no more than fifteen thousand copies in their various editions, and two of...

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Frank W. Shelton (review date Fall 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Suttree and Suicide," in Southern Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Fall, 1990, pp. 71-83.

[In the following essay, Shelton comments upon the existential themes within Suttree, and focuses on the protagonist of the same name. Shelton provides an overview of the novel, and discusses the Myth of Sisyphus, suicide, and other topics in his treatment.]

Since the modern South possesses such a rich literary tradition, it is often customary to examine a contemporary southern writer from the point of view of his regionalism. However, Cormac McCarthy, in Suttree at least, can be rewardingly analyzed in the light of existential philosophy. The characters of...

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Andrew Bartlett (review date Fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "From Voyeurism to Archaeology: Cormac McCarthy's Child of God," in The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. XXIV, No. 1, Fall, 1991, pp. 3-15.

[In the following essay, Bartlett examines the novel Child of God, focusing on the various narrative perspectives within the book, most notably the voyeuristic perspective that is often employed.]

Readers who find Cormac McCarthy's Child of God disturbingly powerful might well argue that this power results from the "raw material" of its antihero. Lester Ballard is a twenty-seven-year-old white native of Frog Mountain in Appalachian Sevier County, Tennessee: a cursing, spitting, vengeful, homicidal,...

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Richard B. Woodward (interview date 19 April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction," in The New York Times Magazine, Vol. CXLI, No. 48,941, April 19, 1992, pp. 28-31, 36, 40.

[In the following article, Woodward conducts an interview with the elusive McCarthy, and gains many insights into the author's writing habits, his personal life, and his thoughts on his own fiction.]

"You know about Mojave rattlesnakes?" Cormac McCarthy asks. The question has come up over lunch in Mesilla, N.M., because the hermitic author, who may be the best unknown novelist in America, wants to steer conversation away from himself, and he seems to think that a story about a recent trip he took near the Texas-Mexico border will offer...

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Madison Smartt Bell (review date 17 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Man Who Understood Horses," in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. XCVII, No. 20, May 17, 1992, pp. 9, 11.

[In the following review, Bell discusses the differences between All The Pretty Horses and McCarthy's previous novels, and calls the book the "most accessible" of his works.]

Cormac McCarthy has practiced the Joycean virtues of silence, exile and cunning more faithfully than any other contemporary author, until very recently, he shunned publicity so effectively that he wasn't even famous for it. By his single-minded commitment to his work and his apparent indifference to the rewards and aggrandizements quite openly pursued by the rest of us,...

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Richard Eder (review date 17 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "John's Passion," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 17, 1992, pp. 3, 13.

[In the following review, Eder discusses All the Pretty Horses, provides a plot synopsis, and comments on McCarthy's descriptive prose.]

When John Cole's grandfather dies in 1947, leaving the 18,000-acre Texas ranch he spent his life to assemble, the 16-year-old begs his mother to lease it to him. She is determined to sell out; she is an actress, likes a good time and cannot stand the place. So John and his buddy, Rawlins, take two horses, two guns and a little money, and light out for Mexico.

Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses is the ambitious...

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Irving Malin (review date 25 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Sense of Incarnation," in Commonweal, Vol. 119, No. 16, September 25, 1992, p. 29.

[In the following review, Malin discusses imagery, characterization, and the spiritual quest found in All the Pretty Horses. Malin comments on the language used in the novel, and on the "juxtapositions of beauty and blood, 'prettiness' and terror."]

Cormac McCarthy is one of our best—if least known—writers. In this, his fourth novel, he uses the archetypal journey to discuss important spiritual themes. He is primarily interested in the origins of evil; the search for redemption; the meaning of our brutal existence.

Although his latest novel deals...

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Vereen Bell (review date October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Between the Wish and the Thing the World Lies Waiting," in The Southern Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, October, 1992, pp. 920-27.

[In the following essay, Bell discusses the desires of McCarthy's characters to live in a world uncomplicated by the influences and demands the contemporary world places on them.]

Cormac McCarthy's most sympathetic characters wish to live only in the mode of description—the less narrative the better—but the God that rules their world—an editor, clearly—likes stories and, either for his own amusement or to test them, he imposes plots upon them. Take this case of John Grady Cole, in All the Pretty Horses. The plot for him...

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Denis Donoghue (review date 24 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dream Work," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. 40, No. 12, June 24, 1993, pp. 5-6, 8-10.

[In the following review, Donoghue discusses All the Pretty Horses in relation to McCarthy's other novels, asserting that McCarthy is at his "best with what nature gives or imposes, rather than with the observations of culture."]

All the Pretty Horses, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1992, is the first volume of The Border Trilogy, and Cormac McCarthy's sixth novel. The earlier ones are The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, Child of God, Suttree, and Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West. McCarthy has been regarded as...

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Kerry Ahearn (review date August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of All the Pretty Horses, in Western American Literature, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, August, 1993, pp. 182-184.

[In the following review, Ahearn provides a brief analysis of All the Pretty Horses, discusses the protagonist's quest, and calls the work "a must read."]

After his first four novels, from The Orchard Keeper through Suttree, Cormac McCarthy's regional reputation was Southern, and his renown primarily stylistic. Commentators made comparisons with artists as diverse as Sam Peckinpah and Jorge Luis Borges. Then the Protean McCarthy produced Blood Meridian, a tale of the West that mixed grotesque violence and grotesque...

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Michael Dirda (review date 5 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "At the End of His Tether," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXIV, No. 23, June 5, 1994, pp. 1, 13.

[In the following review, Dirda comments on the broad scope of The Crossing, lauding the craftsmanship of McCarthy's writing but faulting the "heavy-handed" and "grandiloquent" aspects of the work.]

Two years ago All the Pretty Horses, the first installment of Cormac McCarthy's "Border Trilogy," rounded up raves from the critics, landed on the bestseller lists, deservedly won major literary prizes (National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction) and proved Scott Fitzgerald wrong.

"There are," said Fitzgerald...

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Gregory Jaynes (review date 6 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Knock at the Door," in Time, Vol. 143, No. 23, June 6, 1994, pp. 62-64.

[In the following review, Jaynes comments on McCarthy's reticent nature and the author's emergence as a recognized best-seller, and touches briefly on his life and career.]

When Cormac McCarthy's sixth novel, All the Pretty Horses, won the National Book Award last year, journalists naturally wanted a word with the author. McCarthy possesses a lifelong habit of refusing questions, however. As a Texas lawyer buddy says, "He solicits publicity like a man evading process." A prestigious literary honor did nothing to change his mind; for that matter, he didn't go pick up the award....

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Richard Eder (review date 12 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cormac McCarthy's Next Pilgrimage," in Los Angeles Times, June 12, 1994, pp. 3, 12.

[In the following review, Eder discusses The Crossing, lauding the descriptive passages but faulting both the portrayal of Mexico and the use of the Spanish language in the novel.]

In the second part of Cormac McCarthy's epic trilogy, as in the first, the border between the United States and Mexico plays the same role as the rabbit-hole and the looking-glass in Lewis Carroll's two books of Alice. The young adventurers—McCarthy uses a pair—set out from a real though vividly charged Arizona and New Mexico, and cross into a world where realism, folklore, outsized...

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Robert Hass (review date 12 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Travels with a She-Wolf," in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. CXLIII, No. 49, 725, June 12, 1994, pp. 1, 38-40.

[In the following review, Hass praises The Crossing as an "American original." This in-depth discussion of the novel focuses on description and craftsmanship, and Hass briefly examines McCarthy's play, The Stonemason, with respect to craft.]

How does a writer like Cormac McCarthy—if there is any writer like Cormac McCarthy—follow up on the immense critical and popular success of his novel All the Pretty Horses, which won a National Book Award for 1992 and accumulated extraordinary praise? Mr. McCarthy got compared to...

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Malcolm Jones Jr. (review date 13 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Brightening Western Star," in Newsweek, June 13, 1994, p. 54.

[In the following review, Jones lauds McCarthy as a "master prose stylist," and calls The Crossing "emotionally satisfying." A portion of the review is spent discussing McCarthy's emerging status as a prominent writer, and his growing fan following.]

Cormac McCarthy's fans divide into two camps. The first and much smaller group fell for McCarthy years ago, when he was writing Southern Gothic novels distinguished by creepy plots full of necrophilia and incest, told in prose so rich it could rot your teeth. The second set of customers came along with the publication in 1992 of All the Pretty...

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Michiko Kakutani (review date 21 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Border Crossings, Real and Symbolic," in The New York Times, June 21, 1994, p. C21.

[In the following negative review, Kakutani discusses the influence of Faulkner on McCarthy's writing and compares The Crossing to Faulkner's story, The Bear. Faulting The Crossing's "self-importance" and "pretentious prose," Kakutani dismisses the novel as a "loose variation" on the themes of All the Pretty Horses.]

Though it's billed as Volume II of "The Border Trilogy," Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, The Crossing is less a sequel to his award-winning book All the Pretty Horses than a loose variation on its themes of loss, exile, violence...

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Bruce Allen (review date 26 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Land of the Wounded Men," in Tribune Books, June 26, 1994, p. 5.

[In the following favorable review, Allen praises the descriptive prose in The Crossing, and the "vividly rendered conflict" of The Stonemason. Comparing McCarthy to Melville and Faulkner, the critic lauds these two works, while acknowledging their frequent melodramatic passages.]

Cormac McCarthy, who was born in 1933 and has been publishing novels since 1965, was until only two years ago an obscure name to the larger reading public, burdened with a reputation as a writer's writer. McCarthy's dark and violent fictions, set in the American South and Southwest and redolent of earlier...

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C. Carr (review date 5 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "True West," in Village Voice, Vol. XXXIX, No. 27, July 5, 1994, p. 81.

[In the following review, Carr focuses on the deeper meanings within the bleak and desolate settings and occurrences in The Crossing. Acknowledging that there is purpose to the bloodshed and evil in McCarthy's novels, Carr comments on the themes of loss and the human condition in the works.]

A boy is traveling through Mexico on horseback, leaving the Southwest, leaving home. That's a bald outline of Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Crossing. In his last novel, All the Pretty Horses, two boys traveled from the Southwest into Mexico. As did a boy in his previous book,...

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Sven Birkerts (review date 11 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Lone Soul State," in The New Republic, Vol. 211, No. 4147, July 11, 1994, pp. 38-41.

[In the following review, Birkerts notes similarities between The Crossing and All the Pretty Horses, and comments on the differences between these two works and previous novels.]

The myth of Cormac McCarthy is the myth of hard knocks endured and surmounted. There were long, lean years when novels now seen as brilliant were unable to find an audience. The author acquired a reputation as a drifter, a misfit and an uncompromising solitary. And then, in 1992, came a double play. All the Pretty Horses, the first volume of McCarthy's projected Border...

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Edwin T. Arnold (essay date 4 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Blood and Grace: The Fiction of Cormac McCarthy," in Commonweal, November 4, 1994, pp. 11-16.

[In the following essay, Arnold provides an overview of McCarthy's works, discussing how the novels address the issues of contemporary society. Focusing on the religious themes of the works, Arnold examines McCarthy's sensibilities and the deeper messages within the novels.]

Cormac McCarthy's novels compose an extended journey. His characters travel the mountain roads and forests of east Tennessee, the city streets of Knoxville, the deserts and hills of Mexico and the Southwest. For the most part, their wanderings seem without immediate purpose, or purpose of the...

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Jean Richey (review date Winter 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Crossing, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 1, Winter, 1995, pp. 140-141.

[In the following review, Richey comments on McCarthy's obsession with violence and evil in The Crossing, and lauds the author's great descriptive abilities.]

The Crossing is the second novel in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy following All the Pretty Horses, which brought this reclusive writer great popular acclaim when it was named the winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was even optioned for film. Post-Horses readers may not realize that McCarthy is not only someone who may...

(The entire section is 1030 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Bell, Vereen M. The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Criticism and interpretation of McCarthy's works, includes bibliography.

Coles, Robert, ed. That Red Wheelbarrow: Selected Literary Essays. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988, 352 p.

A collection of essays on various authors that reprints an article originally published in the March 22, 1969, issue of New Yorker focusing on the novel Outer Dark.

Hall, Wade, and Rick Wallach, editors. Sacred Violence:...

(The entire section is 407 words.)