Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Review: The Passenger, by Cormac McCarthy

I generally find Conrad McCarthy’s books difficult to read, and The Passenger was no exception. However, I did find this book to be rewarding, because — for once — I felt I had a handle on what McCarthy was going for.

To me, the book is about searching, control, and the price and futility of trying to become “enlightened.” It’s also about how our paths get thrown off as life takes us in directions we never dreamed of following, and about the tunnel vision most of us have when it comes to pursuing things, as well as how we shape events in our lives to agree with our “stories.” It’s also about coming to terms with who we are.

This is, of course, a lot of heavy lifting for one book. The Passenger carries it off brilliantly through the eyes of Bobby Western and the conversations he has with others, along with the paths his life takes and his obsession with his deceased sister, Alicia. It also looks at Alicia’s very human desire to not exist at all since she finds the constraints of living in society to be soul-crushing. She retreats into a world where the voices in her head become much more real to her than almost any human voices (with her brother being one of a very few exceptions to this).

I note that I had to take a number of breaks while listening to the book, although the reading was excellent, because there was so much to digest and think about, and partly because there are disturbing elements to it (as with the other books of his that I’ve read).

McCarthy has written another book to go with this, Stella Maris. I will definitely be reading it, to see how he wraps this series up — although at first read of The Passenger I am wondering if these were meant to be the first two books of an Aeschylus-styled trilogy, where two competing things are dealt with in the first two works, and synthesized into a coherent whole in the third.

Still, if you are up for a challenge, this is a worthy one.

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