Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeCultureBooksThe Passenger and Stella Maris

The Passenger and Stella Maris

The Passenger
HB $45
Stella Maris
PB $34.95
Cormac McCarthy
Pan Macmillan

The two companion novels of Cormac McCarthy’s latest writings follow the lives of brother and sister Bobby and Alicia Western, focused on their mutual devastation at the hands of their father’s involvement in Robert Oppenheimer’s atomic project and how to come to terms with the scale of such violence.

Both brother and sister are brilliant and both are lost. It is early in The Passenger that we learn Bobby has lost his sister first to mental illness and then to suicide and that he clearly struggles to find identity and direction without his sister.

Symbolically, he works as a salvage diver, trying to find the value in wrecks. He also traverses the natural world to find some semblance of solace.

The time shift between the two novels is unclear. While Alicia’s absence is felt throughout The Passenger, Stella Maris vividly brings her last years to life. Stella Maris is the psychiatric hospital where Alicia resides and each chapter records a conversation between Alicia and her psychiatrist, who tries to understand her and her problematic relationship with her brother.

A brilliant mathematician, Alicia discusses the role of science and academic pursuits in a nihilistic world and how the logic of knowledge can coexist when humanity has perfected the ultimate means to its destruction. Both texts, probably Cormac McCarthy last fictional output, offer a thought-provoking and challenging examination of human responsibility and love in the nuclear age.

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Postscript: Cormac McCarthy (Charles Joseph McCarthy) born on July 20, 1933, died on June 13, 2023.

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