filling in the picture of major latter-day author Cormac McCarthy

CORMAC McCARTHY’S LITERARY EVOLUTION — Editors, Agents, and the Crafting of a Prolific American Author by Daniel Robert King. U. of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. 2016. 323 + viii pages. $42.00 hardcover ISBN 978–1–62190–247–8 notes, bibliography, index.

Cormac McCarthy has a reputation of being reclusive. He is not reclusive in the J. D. Salinger sense in that he determinedly seeks out solitude and when, say, interviewers or other media people seek him out, he follows strategies for escaping them. McCarthy does not have such a penchant, nor follow such a strategy to avoid contact. McCarthy is reclusive when compared to lots of other latter-day and contemporary writers in that he does not proactively seek out publicity.

Nonetheless, when McCarthy is in a public, media setting, he is not much forthcoming about his writing, his life, and other typical subjects authors discuss providing critics with openings into areas for further research or revealing aspects of the author’s psyche, motives, aims, etc. This reclusiveness and reticence of McCarthy is relevant to this critical work because for it King had to go to varied and far-flung archives and similar sources rather than, say, conduct interviews with the author or read through many letters to different persons in the author’s life.

The McCarthy critique is not panoramic nor even mosaic. It develops like a spider web, and like a web, is made up of spaces yet despite this is surprising strong and effective. King has done all he could to give a coherent, illuminating study of this major American novelist who has won the National Book Award for his book “All the Pretty Horses” and whose book “No Country for Old Men” was made into an Oscar-winning movie by the Coen brothers.

This critic has moved well beyond Richard Woodward’s 1992 remark, “McCarthy’s silence about himself has spawned a host of legends about his background and whereabouts” to clear up some of the legends and specify McCarthy’s whereabouts at different times of his life. This book profits from the inevitable accrual of growth, artifacts, activities, relationships, experiences, and such over years.

Cormac McCarthy may still be comparatively reclusive and has not purposely created an image for himself as many modern-day authors such as Norman Mailer or Tom Wolfe have. But he has written many novels, left stores of communications with editors, gotten a good deal of attention in the literary periodicals and mass media, allowed contact with researchers, and had relations with varied persons. King has made good use of all this for a estimable, unique critique that may turn out to be the ultimate work on McCarthy given his age, the presumed loss of some materials which may have helped to fill in the picture, and this critic’s indefatigable, exceptionally motivated research for this book.