"The Passenger" | Reviewed by William Winkler
Eighty-nine-year-old American writer Cormac McCarthy is the author of 12 novels as well as screenplays, short stories, and plays. His 2006 novel “The Road” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and his 2005 novel “No Country for Old Men” was made into a Coen brothers film named Best Picture in 2007.
McCarthy’s most recent novel, “The Passenger” continues his tradition of bleak landscapes, complex characters, and a dim but occasionally hopeful world view.
When we first meet protagonist Robert (Bobby) Western he is working as a salvage diver for a New Orleans based company. He and a partner are at the site of a Lockheed Jetstar submerged in forty feet of water. They discover the pilot’s flight bag and one of the avionics panels from the flight deck are missing, as is one of the passengers on the flight’s manifest. After the dive Western can find no mention of the missing flight in any of the local newspapers.
He is approached on several occasions by agents of an unnamed governmental agency who question him about his knowledge of the wrecked plane. He later discovers that his apartment has been entered and searched.
As the narrative unfolds Western learns his bank account and all of his other assets have been frozen by the IRS for no reason the agency is willing to share with him. He leaves New Orleans, travelling, penniless, as far as Idaho where he spends a brutal winter in an abandoned farmhouse with no heat or electricity. At the novel’s conclusion Western has relocated to the island of Formentera, off the east coast of Spain in the eastern Mediterranean.
A parallel narrative involves Western’s sister, Alicia, as she descends into ever deepening psychosis in a world populated by characters of her chaotic mind’s creation.
Alicia is the only person Western has ever truly loved, and his love for her takes on convoluted, although never incestuous, dimensions. In the end he treasures the freedom her death has seemingly brought her, and laments the fact that he is unable to join her.
“The Passenger” challenges the reader to ask questions that may have no answers. McCarthy leaves several plot lines unresolved. “Stella Maris,” the second segment of this literary adventure, will be published the first week of December. It remains to be seen if McCarthy completes the story arcs, or if he leaves the conclusions to the reader’s imagination.