Cormac McCarthy, one of the world’s greatest novelists, passed away on July 13. Alexander Riley, Senior Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), takes the opportunity with his passing to review his work for the June 13 issue of Public Discourse: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute.
According to Dr. Riley, professor of sociology at Bucknell University, McCarthy’s writing “forcefully struggles[s] with the greatest questions of human existence . . . [T]hese books don’t allow any reader. . . to walk away feeling perfectly comfortable in their understanding of the world.”
McCarthy wrote twelve novels in all. His No Country for Old Men (2005) was adapted to film and won the Academy Award for best picture in 2007.
Many readers of McCarthy’s novels focus on the graphic violence and “reality’s inescapable brutality.” But Dr. Riley qualifies this view. “We find here meditations on meaning and meaninglessness, human knowledge, death, spirituality, and the nature of the material world. Truth and beauty, reason and faith, love and sex: it’s all here.” Especially through the characters in two of his novels, Bobby and Alicia Western, Dr. Riley’s reading of McCarthy identifies much more than the grim or nihilistic reality of living in this world without falling prey to solipsism or despair. Indeed, he holds out hope of the possibility of transcendence of this bleak future.
“These books,” Dr. Riley observes, “hint that we might do well, when we face what Alicia named as ‘the horror beneath the surface of the world,’ to emulate the practice of our ancestors. For they trusted that there would always be protection from that horror, so long as we do not lose faith.”