Book cover
Stella Maris
Cormac McCarthy

Is this the first time McCarthy has given us a female protagonist? I’m not sure. He’s certainly given us brilliant women—think the Dueña in All The Pretty Horses. But if I’m remembering right, every interesting woman he has written has served some story-purpose. She is an object of affection. She is a tool of exposition. While she may be deeply imagined, and even complex, we do not enter into her the way we do McCarthy’s male protagonists.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. But this is a weakness.)

This is what makes Stella Maris so special. Finally, we get to see McCarthy bring us deep into the inner life of a woman. All the classic McCarthyisms are here: the language, the philosophy and science, the oppressive doubt.

This is a sad story about a remarkable woman brought down by her own brilliance. I see in her a person who wants to believe in something tangible. But who, when she picks that thing up, finds only paper and ash. Her yearning and her doubt are haunting and familiar. And the mental illness that is at the root of all this, well, you can’t help but turn that question inward.

It is a brilliant sad powerful work of imagination, unencumbered by traditional plot and made better for it. McCarthy, at 90-something, has earned the right to say just exactly what he wants to say, and I’m so glad he put it in the voice of this brilliant woman.