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Renowned Author Cormac McCarthy Dies at the Age of 89

He wrote “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Road,” and “No Country for Old Men” about a violent, outsider world.
Cormac McCarthy, the formidable and reclusive writer of Appalachia and the American Southwest, died on Tuesday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., at 89. His raggedly ornate early novels about misfits and grotesques gave way to the lush taciturnity of “All the Pretty Horses” and the apocalyptic minimalism of “The Road.”
His publisher, Knopf, said his son John confirmed his death.
McCarthy’s horrific literature reflected his dismal vision of humanity. Scalpings, beheadings, arson, rape, incest, necrophilia, and cannibalism adorned his writings. “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” he told The New York Times magazine in 1992. I think the idea that the species can be enhanced and everyone can live in harmony is harmful.
His characters were like him—outsiders. He lived quietly and determinedly beyond the literary mainstream. Mr. McCarthy delivered no readings or blurbs for other authors’ books. He never wrote or taught. Few interviewed him.
However, he reached the mainstream. “All the Pretty Horses,” an introspective western that contrasted with his prior work, earned a National Book Award in 1992, and “The Road” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. “No Country for Old Men,” which won the 2008 Academy Award for best picture, was adapted from both.

That Joel and Ethan Coen picture immortalized Javier Bardem as Mr. McCarthy’s nihilistic hit men Anton Chigurh, who killed his victims with a livestock pneumatic bolt pistol.
Mr. McCarthy was recently considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Harold Bloom dubbed Mr. McCarthy’s 1985 Western, “Blood Meridian,” “the greatest single book since Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying.'”
Saul Bellow commended Mr. McCarthy’s “absolutely overpowering use of language, his life-giving and death-dealing sentences.”
However, not everyone praised Mr. McCarthy. Some critics regarded his works as portentous and self-consciously masculine. He rarely features women.

James Wood called Mr. McCarthy “a colossally gifted writer” and “one of the great hams of American prose, who delights in producing a histrionic rhetoric that brilliantly ventriloquizes the King James Bible, Shakespearean and Jacobean tragedy, Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner” in The New Yorker in 2005.
Mr. Wood accused Mr. McCarthy of writing “close to nonsense” words, “appearing to relish the violence he so lavishly records,” and is opposed to intellectual knowledge.
Mr. McCarthy’s novels evolved over time. Academics and obsessive McCarthy fans have long debated: Early McCarthy or late McCarthy?

The Orchard Keeper (1965), “Outer Dark” (1968), “Child of God” (1973), and “Suttree” (1979) are grim fables set in the Appalachian South. Faulkner’s last editor, Random House’s Albert Erskine, edited Mr. McCarthy’s first five volumes.
Early books could be satirical. One character in “Suttree” had sex with a farmer’s watermelon field. The farmer sues for bestiality, but the man brags, “My lawyer told me a watermelon wasn’t no beast.”
“All the Pretty Horses,” the first novel in Mr. McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, began his latter period. These works show his acute understanding of the American landscape. Rich but austere, his prose was punctuation-free. More Hemingway than Faulkner. His fiction moved to the Southwest desert.
“All the Pretty Horses” startled some of his fans with its existential cowboy and elegiac tone. “Cormac finally has succeeded in writing a book that won’t offend anybody,” said author Leslie Garrett, a friend of Mr. McCarthy.
In 2000, Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz starred in “All the Pretty Horses,” which was a hit. It was Mr. McCarthy’s first bestseller and the first novel to sell many copies. His previous hardcover novels had sold less than 5,000 copies.

Tennessee Childhood

Charles McCarthy, the third of six children and oldest son of Charles J. McCarthy, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 20, 1933. Gladys McCarthy (McGrail). After a few years, the McCarthys moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Mr. McCarthy’s father, a Yale Law School graduate, worked as a Tennessee Valley Authority lawyer.
Mr. McCarthy used Cormac, a family nickname, to avoid being confused with Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s dummy. On a McCarthy website, he titled himself Cormac after an Irish ruler. Another says Mr. McCarthy’s family legally altered his name to “son of Charles” in Gaelic.
Knoxville’s wealthy McCarthy family had a beautiful white house with maids. However, the city’s seedier side attracted young Mr. McCarthy. “I felt earlier on I wasn’t going to be a respectable citizen,” he told Times Magazine. I despised school from day one.
In 1951 and 1952, he studied physics and engineering at Knoxville Catholic High School and the University of Tennessee. In 1953, he joined the Air Force and spent four years in Alaska. He read a lot of books quickly to avoid boredom.
From 1957 through 1959, Mr. McCarthy attended Tennessee again. After a lecturer requested him to read and punctuate 18th-century articles for a textbook, he discovered his language skills. He published short pieces in the student literary magazine. He never graduated and traveled to Chicago to work in an auto parts warehouse while writing his first novel.
He sent “The Orchard Keeper” to Random House because “it was the only publisher I’d heard of.”
In 1965, Orville Prescott of The Times termed “The Orchard Keeper” “impressive” but remarked that Mr. McCarthy used “so many of Faulkner’s literary devices and mannerisms that he half-submerges his own talents beneath a flood of imitation.”

Cormac McCarthy Death
Mr. McCarthy wrote about poverty for years. In 1966, he married English pop singer Anne DeLisle after divorcing Lee Holleman, a fellow University of Tennessee student. A Knoxville dairy barn housed the couple for over eight years.
“We lived in total poverty,” Ms. DeLisle recalled. “Someone would call up and offer him $2,000 to come to speak at a university about his books,” she said. He told them his entire message was on the page. We ate beans for another week.
In Mr. McCarthy’s second novel, “Outer Dark,” a lady births her brother’s child and leaves it in the woods to die. In 1968, Guy Davenport of The Times Book Review called its vocabulary “compounded of Appalachian phrases as plain and as functional as an ax.”

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His third novel, “Child of God,” was about a cave-dwelling necrophilic mass murderer. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist, and author, compared Mr. McCarthy to traditional Greek dramatists in The New Yorker.
Mr. McCarthy relocated to El Paso in 1976 after divorcing Ms. DeLisle. They divorced. His novels also changed settings.
“Suttree” (1979), his last Southern novel, was his most autobiographical. He knew Knoxville’s waterfront fringe characters well. Mr. McCarthy said he was drawn to risk-takers.

Some interpreted the work as a goodbye to his wild past. He quit drinking before publishing the novel. “I only have sober friends,” he remarked. Drinking is a writing hazard.
In 1981, Mr. McCarthy received a MacArthur fellowship while staying in a Knoxville motel. “Three moves is as good as a fire,” he said of his multiple mailing addresses.

Legion of Horrors

Many critics consider “Blood Meridian” his best book. The weird and bloody anti-western about a group of scalp hunters and outlaws in Texas and Mexico contains a mad, hairless, smart, seven-foot-tall albino judge who resembles Melville’s, Captain Ahab.
The book described “a legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners.”
After Mr. Erskine retired, Mr. McCarthy went from Random House to Alfred A. Knopf and hired Gary Fisketjon, who also edited Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Tobias Wolff. Mr. McCarthy gave his first major interview to The Times Magazine before “All the Pretty Horses” was released in 1992.
Richard B. Woodward wrote that Mr. McCarthy “cuts his own hair, eats his meals off a hot plate or in cafeterias, and does his wash at the Laundromat.”
In that interview, Mr. McCarthy picked Melville, Dostoyevsky, and Faulkner as “good writers,” omitting writers who don’t “deal with issues of life and death.” He said of Proust and Henry James, “I don’t understand them. That’s not literary. I find many good writers strange.”
In 1950, John Grady Cole was evicted from his Texas ranch and rode to Mexico with his best friend. The book sold approximately 200,000 copies in six months.
Despite mixed reviews, the Border Trilogy’s next two books sold well. In 1995, Mr. Fisketjon observed, “The thrill of discovery is followed by a backlash.”

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The Santa Fe Institute, founded by particle physicist Murray Gell-Mann, employed Mr. McCarthy for many years. He relocated nearby from El Paso. He liked scientists and sometimes helped copy-edit science books, removing exclamation points and semicolons.
Why physics?”,” he told Rolling Stone in 2007. Why not? After dropping off John, his small son, at school, he drove to the institute.
In 2005, McCarthy published “No Country For Old Men,” a stripped-down existential thriller. “The Road,” a brutal postapocalyptic tale about a father and son, was released the next year.

The novel honors his son.
According to Rolling Stone, Mr. McCarthy thinks about John and the future. If the family situation was different, I could take John to New Zealand. It’s civilized. ”
“Poets shouldn’t vote,” Mr. McCarthy remarked.

Finishing Writing

In 2008, Mr. McCarthy sold Texas State University 98 boxes of letters, drafts, notes, and unpublished material for $2 million. A year later, his Olivetti typewriter sold for $254,500. He started working on a $20 Olivetti, the same model.

In 2012, Mr. McCarthy created “The Counselor,” about a Southwest lawyer who gets into drugs. In 2013, Ridley Scott reworked it for Michael Fassbender and Cameron Diaz.
In 1998, at 64, Mr. McCarthy married Jennifer Winkley. 2006 brought divorce. He is survived by his son John from his third marriage, Chase from his first marriage, two sisters, Barbara Ann McCooe and Maryellen Jaques, a brother, Dennis, and two grandkids. She died in 2009.
Mr. McCarthy’s ambitious linked novels “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” were well-received in late 2022. In “The Passenger,” racing driver turned salvage diver Bobby Western, who resembles Mr. McCarthy in his taciturnity, Knoxville upbringing, and love of New Orleans nightlife, sees things he shouldn’t. Soon, G-men and all the ghosts of the 20th century are after him. It’s a novel of ideas—mathematics, knowledge, fast cars—with flatulence jokes, and pretentiousness.

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“Stella Maris” is the second novel’s name. Because she’s hallucinating, 20-year-old University of Chicago math Ph.D. candidate Alicia Western has checked in there. Her visions include the Thalidomide Kid, a flipper-wearing midget with a twisted sense of humor. Alicia offers the receptionist $40,000 in a small bag. Bobby’s sister Alicia. Their father was a Manhattan Project physicist.
Before his death, Mr. McCarthy indicated that he was writing a script for a film adaptation of “Blood Meridian” to be directed by John Hillcoat, who directed “The Road.”
In 2007, Mr. McCarthy accepted to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on daytime television. “The Road” was her book club pick.
He looked uncomfortable onstage. He informed Ms. Winfrey that interviews are bad for your head. You shouldn’t talk about writing a book because you think about it a lot. You ought to.”

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