The Passenger – by Cormac McCarthy

I’d been waiting for this one  (and the sequel which is due out in 2 days!)  I even had it stashed in my cart at Audible (rather than a pre-purchase) so when I became aware it was available I’d get it.  I read no reviews at all prior to reading the book – I didn’t even see blurbs except for one which said something about this being the first time McCarthy used a female protagonist but that was wrong anyway.  What I’m saying is that I went in cold and read reviews later.    

The Passenger 
by Cormac McCarthy
2022 / 
Read by MacLeod Andrews 12h 44m
Rating: 8/ literary fiction – 21st century 
(1st of 2 novels) 

I’d been waiting for this one as well as the sequel which is due out in 2 days! I even had it stashed in my cart at Audible (rather than a pre-purchase) so when I became aware it was available I got it and abandoning my current read, I started in. I’d read no reviews at all to this point. prior to reading the book. I hadn’t even seen blurbs except for one which said something about this being the first time McCarthy used a female protagonist, but that was wrong anyway.  What I’m saying is that I went in cold and read reviews later.  

I wasn’t ecstatic about the book, but I wasn’t disgusted either, so … And yes, two of the three reviews (New York Times and Slate) I read this evening (after finishing the book) agreed with my take; this is not McCarthy’s finest product by a long shot. That said, it does have some fine moments and I’ve read there is at least one literary one critic who praised it highly. (I’ll have to go read his take.)

.I think McCarth wanted to write like he used to, but it comes off different and maybe he tried too hard. Or just maybe 2022 is not the 1980s or even the ‘90s – bleak violence is not the thing Boomers are into anymore – not so much anyway. Also, McCarthy has inserted a lot more science into the story, I suppose this is a result of his 30+ year association with the Santa Fe Institute.  https://www.santafe.edu/news-center/news/cormac-and-sfi-abiding-friendship .

But I also read (just recently) that this was started a few years prior to the1985 publication of Blood Meridian. (I really should NOT compare the two books but how can I help it?)

Okay – so … The book opens with the description of an apparently attractive young woman’s body hanging from a tree in the country on a cold and wintery Christmas Day. A hunter with a gun finds her by the red sash she has tied around her.  He stops and and kneels but he doesn’t know of a prayer to say for this. He finds a ring and a key on a chain very nearby. That’s a kind of prologue. 

The narrative backtracks a bit and Alicia, a young gorgeous genius, is in a rooming house conversing with a very strange little dwarf called “The Kid” who thrives on puns and brings “entertainers” to do tricks for Alicia. (This is an hallucination.) He tries to get Alicia to come with him and she’s trying to get rid of him.  A boy named “The Kid” was the protagonist in Blood Meridian.

Meanwhile, or maybe later, Alicia’s brother Bobby Western is diving for salvage, getting bodies and cargo out of sunken airplanes, ships and helicopters, etc. He meets with friends and moves a couple times and a bit of this is backstory but mostly it’s not. The siblings’ father was employed to create the atomic bomb, which he did, but the siblings don’t know quite how to feel about that. Many scenes with Bobby and friends deal with it and Bobby tries to avoid some unfriendly men who are on his tail for something (we find out).  Meanwhile, in other scenes, he’s concerned about and looking for something from Alicia. 

The paranoia here is reminiscent of Don Delillo and a couple of the discussions reinforce that suggestion – (to me anyway). There’s the whole discussion about the assassination of JFK for instance.  But there’s also an attempt at whimsy like Pynchon – wise-cracking dialogues which are really very quirky (if that’s the word). 

There were a few instances of the old McCarthy here, but mostly, imo,  it was at about the level of No Country for Old Men. (Blood Meridian is on the level of Faulkner’s works and Moby Dick, McCarthy’s favorite novel.)

 I really tried not to expect anything. I’d not seen any hype, but I sometimes hype books in my own head and this is one I surely would have.  I’m a bit nervous to do that because … been there, done that. And besides – I was somewhat disappointed with No Country for Old Men so my expectations were msot likely about that level.  

I may read this again – there seems to be more than meets the eye on a first reading.

P.S. The good review – and it is good – is at:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/oct/26/the-passenger-by-cormac-mccarthy-review-a-deep-dive-into-the-abyss

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