Cormac McCarthy, who is pushing 90, has arrived with a pair of audacious linked novels, one a total banger and the other no embarrassment. If this is what it sounds like to be on your last legs, young writers should ask their server for whatever he’s having. If McCarthy’s voice is any indication, he’s still limber enough to outrun an aggrieved cheetah in his drawers and stocking feet ... Novels aren’t made, generally, to be filled entirely by talk. But that’s what Stella Maris is — transcriptions of therapy sessions with one of the hospital’s shrinks. This is a Tom Stoppardesque bull session. Does it work? Uh-huh. Does it work more fully if you’ve already read The Passenger? Absolutely ... Stella Maris is, by comparison, a small and frequently elegiac novel. It’s best read while you are still buzzing from the previous book. Its themes are dark ones, and yet it brings you home.
At the human level, at the level of verisimilitude, these two companion novels are hardly serious. Perhaps McCarthy seeks to indemnify himself against the charge of authorial wish fulfillment by dooming his fantastical characters to early demises ... The new and welcome thing in The Passenger and Stella Maris is the lucidity of this bitter metaphysics. McCarthy’s earlier books were so shrouded in obscurity, rang with so much hieratic shrieking and waving, that it was perfectly possible to extract five contradictory theological ideas at once from their fiery depths ... These new novels flush McCarthy out of his rhetorical cover.
If you read the books in order, you might find Stella Maris...coldly underwhelming despite, or perhaps because of, the erudition of the twenty-one-year-old, debatably schizophrenic, suicidal math genius Alice Western ... McCarthy is not interested in the psychology of character. He probably never has been. He’s interested in the horror of every living creature’s situation. Brilliant, beautiful Alice is barely believable as a female human being. And why should she be? ... Alice is the sturdy vessel for McCarthy’s thinking. Perhaps too sturdy a vessel; one might prefer a bit of spillage, some froth, some fun.