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Understanding Cormac McCarthy

Steven Frye

A roadmap to the dark and mythic topography of McCarthy's fiction

Named by Harold Bloom as one of the most significant American novelists of our time, Cormac McCarthy has been honored with the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for All the Pretty Horses, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for The Road, and the coveted MacArthur Fellowship. In Understanding Cormac McCarthy Steven Frye offers a comprehensive treatment of McCarthy's fiction to date, dealing with the author's aesthetic and thematic concerns, his philosophical and religious influences, and his participation in Western literary traditions.

Frye provides extensive readings of each novel, charting the trajectory of McCarthy's development as a writer who invigorates literary culture both past and present through a blend of participation, influence, and aesthetic transformation. He explores the early works of the Tennessee period in the context of the romance genre, the southern gothic, and the grotesque. A chapter is devoted to Blood Meridian, a novel that marks McCarthy's transition to the West and his full recognition as a major force in American letters. Frye also explores McCarthy's Border Trilogy and his later works—specifically No Country for Old Men and The Road—addressing the manner in which McCarthy's preoccupation with violence and human depravity exists alongside a perpetual search for meaning, purpose, and value.

President of the Cormac McCarthy Society, Steven Frye is a professor of American Literature at California State University, Bakersfield. He is the author of Historiography and Narrative Design in the American Romance: A Study of Four Authors, editor of Critical Insights: Poe's Tales and Critical Insights: Poe's Poetry. He is also associate editor of ALN: The American Literary Naturalism Newsletter, as well as the author of many essays, articles, and reviews on Cormac McCarthy, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, and other novelists of the American romance tradition.

"Frye offers an excellent synthesis of all McCarthy's novels and a significant overview of the man himself as a means of understanding his creative output…. Anyone wishing to understand the significance of McCarthy and the aesthetic transformation of his work over the years will find this a foundational work."—Choice




5 x 8
240 pages
ISBN 978-1-61117-018-4
paperback, $21.95s

eISBN 978-1-61117-204-1
ebook, $20.99t
Understanding Contemporary American Literature

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