One of today's most important novelists, Cormac McCarthy is at the peak of a long and productive career. He won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Road" in 2007 and the National Book Award for "All the Pretty Horses" in 1992. This book is a guide to his works and their relevance.
The volume begins with a look at his life and his use of the novel as a means of expressing his ideas. The book then looks at his works, themes, characters, and contexts. It then discusses his exploration of current events and the presence of his fiction in popular culture. Chapters include sidebars of interesting information and provide questions to stimulate book club discussion and student research.
The completion of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy--"All the Pretty Horses" (1992), "The Crossing" (1994), and "Cities of the Plain" (1998)--marked a major achievement in American literature. Only ten years earlier this now internationally acclaimed novelist had been called the best unknown writer in America.
The trilogy is McCarthy's most ambitious project yet, composed at the height of his mature powers over a period of fifteen years. It is "a miracle in prose," as Robert Hass wrote of its middle volume, an unsentimental elegy for the lost world of the cowboy, the passing of the wilderness, and the fading innocence of post--World War II America. The trilogy is a literary accomplishment with wide appeal, for despite the challenging materials in each book, these volumes remained on bestseller lists for many weeks.
This collection of essays is the first book to examine these novels as a trilogy, the first to read them as an integrated whole. Together these explorations of McCarthy's magnum opus serve as an ideal companion reader.
Represented here are nine of the most notable Cormac McCarthy scholars, both American and European. Their essays provide a substantial exploration of the trilogy from different perspectives. Included are gender issues, eco-critical approaches, explications of the war or land history underlying the trilogy, studies of narrative voice, dreams, the cowboy tradition, and the pastoral tradition, and considerations of McCarthy's moral and spiritual outlook. These essays complement one another in highly provocative ways, prompting new appreciation of the complexity of McCarthy's work and the profundity of his vision.
Potts develops this account through an argument that integrates McCarthy's fiction with both postmodern theory and contemporary fundamental and sacramental theology. In McCarthy's novels, the human self is always dispossessed of itself, given over to harm, fate, and narrative. But this fundamental dispossession, this vulnerability to violence and signs, is also one uniquely expressed in and articulated by the Christian sacramental tradition.
By reading McCarthy and this theology alongside postmodern accounts of action, identity, subjectivity, and narration, Potts demonstrates how McCarthy exploits Christian theology in order to locate the value of human acts and relations in a way that mimics the dispossessing movement of sacramental signs. This is not to claim McCarthy for theology, necessarily, but it is to assert that McCarthy generates his account of what human goodness might look like in the wake of metaphysical collapse through the explicit use of Christian theology.
The study shows that more than any of the other landscapes evoked by McCarthy, the Southwestern desert becomes the stage for his dramatizations of a wild sense of the pastoral. McCarthy's fourth novel, Suttree, which is the only one set inside an urban environment, is used in the introductory chapter to discuss the relevant compositional aspects of his fiction and the methodology of the chapters to come.
The main part of the study devotes chapters to McCarthy's Southern novels, his keystone work Blood Meridian, and the Western novels known as the Border Trilogy. The concluding chapter discusses the broader context of American pastoralism and suggests that McCarthy's ecopastoralism is animistic rather than environmentalist in character.
Guillemin shows that the very popular Border Trilogy takes McCarthy's ecopastoralism to its culmination, although this is often overlooked precisely because of the simplicity of the plots--picaresque quests. As the trilogy arranges its plots as a search for a life of pastoral harmony (All the Pretty Horses), envisions a nomadic version of pastoral (The Crossing), and experiences the foreclosure of the pastoral vision anywhere (Cities of the Plain), the trilogy as a whole tacitly acknowledges the obsolescence of utopian pastoralism. Increasingly, man ceases to be the dominant focus of narration, so that the shift from an egocentric to an ecocentric sense of self marks both the heroes and narrators of McCarthy's novels.