His dusty settings and rugged characters notwithstanding, Cormac McCarthy was a western novelist the way Stephen King writes pleasant Maine travelogues. From the mutilations of Blood Meridian to the grueling apocalypticism of The Road, McCarthy’s was an almost unremittingly grim vision of humanity and the world, made compulsively readable by the remorseless momentum of his storytelling and startling pockets of observant lyricism.
Because it was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie with star turns by Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, McCarthy’s perhaps most famous for No Country for Old Men, a riveting page-turner of a crime thriller made bleaker than average by its starkly misanthropic depiction of mostly irredeemable people doing mostly appalling things, sometimes with unexpected choices of farming equipment. It’s such a driving narrative and so spare in its language that it seemed like a movie adaptation was unnecessary; when you finished reading the book it already felt like you’d just watched the movie. But it’s a testament to McCarthy’s worldbuilding that the Coen brothers’ eloquently crafted film version managed to be faithful to the novel’s hairpin turns and escalating menace while also finding humane glints of weary hope in the spaces between the, y’know, senseless deaths.
Pulitzer Prize winner McCarthy died June 13 at the age of 89. He leaves behind a dozen novels, a legion of admiring imitators, some persistent nightmares, and a fairly awkward Oprah interview.
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