The Passenger

Knopf. Oct. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9780307268990. $30. F
The Passenger, McCarthy’s first effort since 2006’s The Road and part of a brand-new duology alongside sister novel Stella Maris, first surprises in seeming to tilt toward more conventional narrative scaffolding than the author has before employed. The novel follows Bobby Western, a salvage diver whose latest job results in a mystery surrounding the titular character. But McCarthy, arguably our preeminent chronicler of existence’s horror and cruel apathy, immediately subverts the arc he sets up—after all, to “solve” a mystery would be about as far from McCarthy works, which trade in life’s essential unknowability, as it gets—instead spinning his slippery narrative out into the vastness of existential consideration and sending his latest haunted man on something of a directionless odyssey. Bobby seems to be simultaneously moving toward and away from the absences that define his life, and the particulars are patiently doled out and precisely planted, with a sense of immensity gradually building from the constellation of seemingly minor moments. And all of this is activated by the soon-to-be nonagenerian’s still spry pen, his facility with brutal but poetic dialogue and dazzling, dense swaths of description on vibrant display.
VERDICT The Passenger is proof that McCarthy still has plenty in the tank, and if it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of his finest work, it’s certainly his strangest. It’s a thrill to find the author still making such beguiling moves.
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