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Understanding Cormac McCarthy by Steven Frye

April 18, 2014

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In 2007, I read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, then followed later that year with The Road. He quickly became one of my favorite authors. I’ve read eight of his ten novels (The Crossing and Cities of the Plain the second and third books of the Border Trilogy, are on the shelf). Lately I’ve delved into his plays and screenplays (The Sunset Limited, The Stonemason, The Counselor). I recently bought copies of The Road and Blood Meridian for a second reading. I have gone down a bit of a dark, violent rabbit hole, as McCarthy, often cited as one of the most important living writers, has obviously struck a chord with me.

This book is an academic overview of McCarthy’s novels. Frye examines each of McCarthy’s novels and places it within the context of the writer’s life, his overall body of work and the modern American canon. He covers popular and critical reception of McCarthy’s novels and traces McCarthy’s wide-ranging influences, from the Bible to Moby Dick, James Agee, Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner.  And he unpacks McCarthy’s dense language, considering its effect and purpose.

McCarthy wrestles with the same themes time and again—the search for hope and meaning in a world of violence and depravity, natural beauty juxtaposed with human destruction, and the big questions of God and why. Frye gives just enough analysis of each work to pull these themes out and tie the works together, which ends up being about 10-20 pages per novel. It’s just the right amount if you’ve read all of McCarthy’s stuff and love it enough to want to dive in deeper, but maybe aren’t ready to join the Cormac McCarthy Society just yet.

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