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Cormac McCarthy, a literary titan celebrated for his unrelenting portrayals of the austere American frontiers and its somber undercurrents, passed away on Tuesday, June 13, at the age of 89.

The Pulitzer Prize laureate, whose works such as The Road and No Country for Old Men were adapted into critically-acclaimed films, succumbed to natural causes in the serene environs of his residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, confirmed his publisher, quoting his progeny.

With a career that spanned an awe-inspiring six decades, McCarthy’s oeuvre, encompassing a dozen novels, was suffused with terse, incisive prose that garnered a litany of literary accolades both domestically and internationally. His deft, unwavering hand cut through the soul, chiseling characters wrestling with inner turmoil.

Known for his exacting standards and an unapologetic approach to the written word, McCarthy’s surgically precise depictions of desolation and psychological tumult enamored him to a dedicated cadre of readers.

McCarthy’s inaugural venture into the world of letters, The Orchard Keeper, was conceived amidst the grease and grime of an auto parts emporium in Chicago during the 1960s. The novel, a visceral homage to the untamed beauty of the Tennessean highlands where he spent his formative years, was shepherded into publication by Random House. Of note, McCarthy’s editor, Albert Erskine, had previously collaborated with William Faulkner, a literary great whose work McCarthy held in high esteem and to whom he has been compared.

The haunting, sinewy thread of humanity’s somber aspects continued to be a leitmotif in McCarthy’s oeuvre. His ravenous and unabated exploration of the human condition garnered him both a passionate readership and critical acclaim.

His own words to Rolling Stone in 2007 epitomized his literary ethos. “If it doesn’t concern life and death,” he remarked, “it’s not interesting.”

One of his most chilling works, Child of God, published in 1973, tells the dark tale of a man’s descent into isolation in the Appalachian wilderness, rife with murder and necrophilia. In contrast, Suttree, published in 1979 after two decades of intermittent labor, is often cited as his most humor-infused work, painting a vivid picture of a marginalized community on the banks of the Tennessee River.

McCarthy leaves behind a literary legacy that delves into the crevices of the human soul and the American landscape with unflinching honesty, and his indelible mark on literature shall reverberate through the annals of time.

The literary world is bathed in elegiac tribute following the passing of McCarthy. Among the cacophony of praise, renowned author Stephen King heralded McCarthy as “perhaps the greatest American novelist of my time.” Despite the rich tapestry of work McCarthy leaves behind, King lamented, “He was full of years and created a fine body of work, but I still mourn his passing.”

In 1981, McCarthy’s burgeoning literary prowess was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation, which bestowed upon him one of its coveted ‘Genius Grants’. He then sojourned to El Paso, Texas, abutting the Mexican border, a region that would profoundly influence his ensuing works. Among these was “Blood Meridian,” a phantasmagorical Western opus set in the Texas-Mexico frontier of the 1840s. Though initially met with tepid reception upon its 1985 publication, the novel would later be heralded as a paramount achievement of 20th-century literature.

As the 1990s unfurled, McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy – comprising All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain – illumined the literary horizon. Despite his editor, Albert Erskine, ruefully remarking on the meager sales of McCarthy’s earlier works, All the Pretty Horses galloped into the limelight, securing a coveted position on The New York Times bestseller list. Hollywood soon courted his work, with a cinematic adaptation of the novel, featuring Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz, debuting in 2000.

The crowning glory of McCarthy’s cinematic adaptations arrived in 2008, as Joel and Ethan Coen’s rendition of No Country for Old Men swept the Oscars, capturing four golden statuettes, including a triumphant win for Spanish thespian Javier Bardem.

The previous year, McCarthy clinched a Pulitzer Prize for The Road, a harrowing odyssey of a father and son navigating a dystopian wasteland. The novel’s inclusion in Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club catapulted McCarthy to unprecedented prominence. A silver screen adaptation followed, starring Viggo Mortensen.

McCarthy’s swan song comprised two companion novels, The Passenger and its prequel Stella Maris, both published in 2022. These introspective works grappled with the intricacies of grief and the ephemeral nature of knowledge.

Born Charles McCarthy on July 20, 1933, in Providence, Rhode Island, his family relocated to Tennessee when he was four. His appellation was later gallicized to Cormac, inspired by an ancient Irish king. Forgoing the completion of his university education, he chose to immerse himself in the tempestuous seas of literature.

A man of enigmatic reclusiveness and Spartan lifestyle, McCarthy often eschewed the public gaze, opting for transient living in motels. Thrice-married and father to two sons, his reticence extended to interviews, of which he granted only a sparing few.

In a rare conversation with Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy divulged his aversion to overthinking the art of writing. “I don’t think that it’s good for your head,” he confided. “If you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it – you should be doing it.”

With the passing away of McCarthy, literature loses a titan, a weaver of dark tapestries, whose indomitable words painted America’s vast canvas with haunting, relentless beauty.

With AFP


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