Stella Maris is a term for a female protector or guiding spirit at sea. The title is sometimes given to the Virgin Mary, and it’s often the name given to Catholic Churches and aid societies.
By Cormac McCarthy
2020 (198 pages)
Read by Julia Whelan, Edoardo Ballarini
Rating – 8.5 / literary fiction
Stella Maris is also the title of Cormac McCarthy’s second novel in the 2-book series starting with The Passenger which was just released about 10 days ago and which I just finished reading about 3 days ago. Yes, Read The Passenger first. I don’t know what kind of sense I’d have made of Stella Maris had I not done this.
Alicia Western, the sister of Bobby Western in The Passenger, has checked herself into Stella Maris, a psychiatric hospital in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Alicia is a brilliant and beautiful 22-year old doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago. She’s been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and has been a patient at the facility twice before. Also, she has $40,000 cash in her bag.
After a brief “prologue,” the narrative consists of the transcribed psychiatric sessions she has with her hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Cohen. These sessions start out being about her visits from imagined beings, particularly one named the Thalidomide Kid, a very small person with flippers for hands but before long they range in subject matter from o”tell me about yourself” to the nature of the universe, physics, math and mathematicians, dreams, language and a whole lot more.
For someone who hasn’t really written much in the way of women characters prior to this (only one bit player in an early work), McCarthy has created a beautiful and sympathetic portrayal of Alicia. He’s always done men very nicely and Dr Cohen is no different.
But McCarthy’s strong point has always been his very powerful prose and when Alicia gets rolling the old style is still there –
It’s been a while since I’ve read McCarthy – sounds like he still has it!
Oh yes – he still has it. This is not Blood Meridian by any means. The more I think about the ending here the more I love it.
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