Born Charles McCarthy in 1933, Providence, Rhode Island, but raised in Tennessee, Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. Since the publication of his first book, he enjoyed positive reviews but it was with All the Pretty Horses in 1992 that McCarthy gained widespread success. For this book, he received both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize with his novel, The Road.
Today, McCarthy is considered one of the most important living American novelists, and his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, has even been labeled by some as ‘the Great American Novel’.
How to read Cormac McCarthy’s Books in Order?
The Passenger Series
- The Passenger (2022) – 1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western, a salvage diver, zips the jacket of his wetsuit and plunges from the boat deck into darkness. His divelight illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flightbag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit-by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.
- Stella Maris (2022) – 1972, BLACK RIVER FALLS, WISCONSIN: Alicia Western, twenty years old, with forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag, admits herself to the hospital. A doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, Alicia has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and she does not want to talk about her brother, Bobby. Instead, she contemplates the nature of madness, the human insistence on one common experience of the world; she recalls a childhood where, by the age of seven, her own grandmother feared for her; she surveys the intersection of physics and philosophy; and she introduces her cohorts, her chimeras, the hallucinations that only she can see. All the while, she grieves for Bobby, not quite dead, not quite hers.
The Border Trilogy
- All the Pretty Horses (1992) – The tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself. With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.
- The Crossing (1994) – In the late 1930s, sixteen-year-old Billy Parham captures a she-wolf that has been marauding his family’s ranch. But instead of killing it, he decides to take it back to the mountains of Mexico. With that crossing, he begins an arduous and often dreamlike journey into a country where men meet ghosts and violence strikes as suddenly as heat-lightning–a world where there is no order “save that which death has put there.”
- Cities of the Plain (1998) – The setting is New Mexico in 1952, where John Grady Cole and Billy Parham are working as ranch hands. Their life is made up of trail drives and horse auctions and stories told by campfire light. It is a life that is about to change forever, and John Grady and Billy both know it. The catalyst for that change appears in the form of a beautiful, ill-starred Mexican prostitute. When John Grady falls in love, Billy agrees–against his better judgment–to help him rescue the girl from her suavely brutal pimp. The ensuing events resonate with the violence and inevitability of classic tragedy.
Stand-alone Novels by Cormac McCarthy
- The Orchard Keeper (1965) – Set is a small, remote community in rural Tennessee in the years between the two world wars, it tells of John Wesley Rattner, a young boy, and Marion Sylder, an outlaw and bootlegger who, unbeknownst to either of them, has killed the boy’s father. Together with Rattner’s Uncle Ather, who belongs to a former age in his communion with nature and his stoic independence, they enact a drama that seems born of the land itself.
- The Outer Dark (1968) – Set is an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century. A woman bears her brother’s child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother’s lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through the countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.
- Child of God (1974) – Lester Ballard–a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape–haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail.
- Suttree (1979) – Cornelius Suttree has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there–a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters–he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humor, and dignity.
- Blood Meridian (1985) – Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.
- No Country for Old Men (2005) – The time is our own when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones. One day, a good old boy named Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.
- The Road (2006) – A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food-and each other.
Plays by Cormac McCarthy
- The Stonemason (1994) – The setting is Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1970s. The Telfairs are stonemasons and have been for generations. Ben Telfair has given up his education to apprentice himself to his grandfather, Papaw, a man who knows that “true masonry is not held together by cement but…by the warp of the world.”
- The Sunset Limited (2006) – A startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where a life or death decision must be made.
Screenplays by Cormac McCarthy
- The Gardener’s Son (1996) – Set in Graniteville, South Carolina, The Gardener’s Son is a tale of privilege and hardship, animosity and vengeance brought to life through two families: the Greggs, the wealthy owners of a cotton mill, and their employees the McEvoys, a father and son beset by misfortune. After Robert McEvoy loses his leg in an accident-rumored to have been caused by his nemesis James Gregg, the son of the mill’s founder-the angry and bitter young man deserts his job and family. Two years later, Robert returns. His mother is dying, and his father, the mill’s gardener, is confined indoors working the factory line. These intertwined events stoke the slow-burning rage McEvoy has long carried, a fury that erupts in a terrible act of violence that ultimately consumes the Gregg family and his own.
- The Counselor (2013) – A lawyer is so seduced by the desire to get rich, to impress his fiancée, that he becomes involved in a risky drug-smuggling venture. His contacts in this high-stakes cocaine trade are the mysterious and probably corrupt Reiner and the seductive Malkina, so exotic her pets of choice are two cheetahs. As the action crosses the Mexican border, things become darker, more violent, and more sexually disturbing than he could ever have imagined.