It had been a spell between Cormac McCarthy novels, with really no indication that he would put out any more work and then bam!, two novels announced to be released just a month apart from each other. I just finished the first one: The Passenger.
I’m not a particularly smart or clever man, prone to what I’ve imagined in my life to be typical GenX mental laziness about things, avoidance of any intellectual nuts that are hard to crack so to speak, so coming at a book like The Passenger is a struggle, probably more than any of McCarthy’s other novels since there is some sort of sub-text I simply cannot grasp quite yet.
The story is about two characters, a brother and sister, who basically share chapters. The sister’s parts are all in italic and seem to be in the past, and the brother’s are more straight forward linear and in normal font. The sister, Alicia, is dealing with what could be described as either manifestations of her imagination or supernatural entities throughout the novel, and the brother, Bobby, has an incident occur at the beginning of the novel that cannot be explained by natural law and what appears to be the fallout from that. Both are the children of a prominent nuclear physicist involved in the creation of the atom bomb and are potentially an experiment of some kind themselves.
The novel begins as what I would call a sci-fi mystery novel. An impossible event happens and the protagonist (Bobby) is the reader’s view into how, what and why of that event as the novel unfolds– except that’s not what happens at all. The novel veers almost entirely away from the initial mystery and settles on a series of conversations between the protagonist and an array of odd characters, slowly allowing the reader to piece together the relationship between Bobby and Alicia, their father and these imaginary constructs/ outworld entities. Except for a few parts, it is a very sad and heavy story, Alicia is found dead in the first few pages and not much goes right for Bobby at all at any point in the novel. It did have me laughing out loud at one section wherein a story is told about a man who could drink a glass of milk with his dick.
I can’t go on with out serious spoilers, but I will say this was tough to get through from about the halfway point to the end and I kept waiting for some sort of major event or confrontation, but it never happens, like the entire second half of the book is a denouement for some climax the reader isn’t in on. For those of you that read The Crossing, this is similar to the characters of Billy Parham and his brother– Billy is the character that has the least interesting story of the two characters, as the brother, who dies, fights as a revolutionary in Mexico. It feels like Alicia, who is dead in ‘real time’ in the novel, is the true protagonist if that makes sense. It’s her internal conflict against whatever it is she’s battling (math?) that is the real crux of the story.
If you are familiar with McCarthy and his books, definitely give this one a go, it reminded me most of Suttree and a bit of The Crossing, but also the Three Body Problem if you are familiar with Cixin Liu’s work. If the Passenger would be your first exposure to McCarthy, read at least one other first, notably either The Outer Dark or No Country for Old Men.
His next novel, Stella Marris came out about a week ago and focuses more on the character of Alicia and continues the story.