If you were interested in the question about whether or not Cormac McCarthy would ever publish another novel, you were sometimes treated to lamentations about how he was supposedly working on a grand, epic novel about incest called The Passenger. And then about six months ago his agent released a statement that he was indeed going to release not one, but two novels that circulate around the same story about a brother and sister.
And here it is. It’s not epic it turns out, even when you combine the novels together, they add up to around 500-600 pages, but in reading them you would understand why they are not exactly epic. I am not using epic as an adjective of quality, but of scope. The novel, The Passenger, is much smaller, sometimes existing purely in the head of one of the characters. At other times, it’s little bigger, but never too big.
There’s a lot of different things happening here though. There’s absolutely gorgeous writing happening here, and there’s goofy, almost trite writing happening here. There the same dour (and of course McCarthy inexplicably corrects our pronunciation of that to “do-or”) writing that tells of the slow collapse not of the world itself, but of our sense of purpose and place within the world, as his last few novels have done, and there’s also the almost, dare I say, jauntiness in other parts of the book.
The book is mainly split into two threads. In one, what we begin with in a chapter I was almost horrified by, we have the internal broken workings of a woman in a mental institution conversing with one of the voices in her head, specifically a circus performed (a “freak”) called “The Thalidomide Kid” who jerks and pulls her around, acting as a kind of trickster character. In the other thread, we have what seems almost like the plot of a thriller (and is also basically the plot of a James Lee Burke novel) where a salvage diver is bringing up a crashed plane which seems like it’s likely part of a cartel shipment. Later, he’s confronted by two scary figures who are or are posing as federal agents who accuse of taking something, possibly a body from the crash. He hasn’t, so it’s scary that they keep persisting he has. This has the trappings of a McCarthy like thriller. Except.
The novel also goes into some weird one-off digressions where some various ideas about being trans, science, nuclear power, and other topics get explored. It also takes several opportunities to correct common grammar, spelling, usage, and pronunciation errors. Like really, it happens a lot in this book.
Hmmmmmmmmmm. I don’t think I can rate this one yet.
What’s the book? Maybe it’s Cormac McCarthy writing a Richard Powers novel while James Lee Burke writes a Terrence Malick movie? Is that good?
I am not sure yet.
Oh right, I forgot. Incest. There’s no more here than in Faulkner. It’s an unfortunate set of feelings, treated sympathetically.