Well. Well well well. You guys know I had this box set preordered as soon as it was announced and this was my most anticipated read of 2023. I’m completely and utterly dumbfounded by this stupid book.
It’s brilliant, it’s complete nonsense, it’s the stark raving mad ranting of an 89 year old that no editor dared to raise a red pen to. It’s a bait and switch. It’s aggravating. And I can’t stop thinking about it. (See Bookish Quick Facts & Synopsis at the end)
The thing about The Passenger is that it ties together almost everything else McCarthy ever wrote. He calls out a lot of his prior works. He sets up a great and interesting mystery that he never follows through on, simply drops the plot line as soon as it gets good.
Is the government after the missing passenger from the fallen airplane, are they after hidden Oppenheimer papers, do they think his son has something? See, in the book, the main character is Oppenheimer’s son, and that angle didn’t work for me because I can’t take a real man with a real documented history and insert him into a fictional situation. He didn’t die in Mexico, his kids weren’t schizophrenic as far as I can tell (although he was wrongly diagnosed) and it’s just a very bizarre conflagration of real and unreal, although the themes of generational guilt are real.
The schizophrenic circus, the thalidomide kid (really, really? So many old people are having flashbacks of that disaster right now 🤦♀️) it was one way to give us a background of the sisters life and psyche but frankly it was just weird. I think these characters make more sense if you read The Kekule Problem but I would say to read it between The Passenger and Stella Maris. This isn’t the first story where McCarthy wrote incestuous siblings and he actually gave Alicia more of a personality than most of his female characters. That said, I think it was fu€ked up but they weren’t, like, physically involved.
So we start with a mystery and end up travelling a circus of bizarre characters, with some prophetic insights on life and more than a healthy amount of ranting about the Kennedys. Throw your plot out the window, no one will even notice, right?
McCarthy isn’t known for punctuation and normal presentation (he would get along with Davidson, real well), and this book falls into that category too so maybe stay away if that style bugs you. I would recommend the audiobook, I did listen to parts of it to see if it sat in my mind better but honestly… Idk, I can’t retain any specifics. The narration was good.
I think if you really want the most from McCarthy, you need to go back and read his prominent works and end with this big old finale. Personally… Idk I’m pretty sure that McCarthy is an old perv who has gone and lost his darn mind, and he’s laughing at everyone trying to make prophecy out of his convoluted ramblings about life, psychology, physics, grief, family ties, the deep dark depths of the ocean, etc etc etc.
I’ll write more after a Kekule reread and then getting through Stella Maris. I hate it but I’m too oddly fascinated not to keep going, plus SM is much shorter so there’s that.
Bookish quick facts:
- Title: The Passenger
- Series: The Passenger, #1
- Author: Cormac McCarthy
- Publisher & Release: Knopf, 2022
- Length: 400 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans. I don’t know if I think he’ll make new fans with this
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon
The Passenger is the story of a salvage diver, haunted by loss, afraid of the watery deep, pursued for a conspiracy beyond his understanding, and longing for a death he cannot reconcile with God.
1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.
Traversing the American South, from the garrulous barrooms of New Orleans to an abandoned oil rig off the Florida coast, The Passenger is a breathtaking novel of morality and science, the legacy of sin, and the madness that is human consciousness.