“It’s a novel of ideas.”
That’s how Jenny Jackson, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf, described Stella Maris, one of two new novels coming from 88-year-old American author Cormac McCarthy this fall. In an unusual move, Knopf announced the publication of the pair – in addition to Stella Maris in November, The Passenger will appear in October – in tandem. The books will be published as separate editions, followed by a box-set edition in December.
In addition to being the first fiction the Pulitzer Prize winner has published since 2006’s The Road, Stella Maris represents the first time McCarthy has featured a woman protagonist. The novel, told entirely in dialogue, is set in 1972 and features conversations between Alicia Western, a doctoral candidate in mathematics, and her psychiatrist following a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The ghostly voices in Stella’s head comprise secondary characters in the narrative.
McCarthy, who is known for his stringently masculine tales of cowboys and roughnecks on the Texas-Mexico border, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009 that he had wanted to place a woman at the centre of one of his novels for the better part of a half-century. “I will never be competent enough to do so, but at some point you have to try,” he said.
The companion novel, though featuring a more recognizable male protagonist, is also a departure for the writer. Set in 1980, The Passenger focuses on a salvage diver who also happens to be the brother of Alicia from Stella Maris.
Though structured as a thriller, The Passenger addresses concepts such as theoretical mathematics and the nature of God – things that have preoccupied McCarthy but that have been relegated to the background of his previous work, if they appear at all.
Reagan Arthur, who took over the publisher’s mantle at Knopf from the late Sonny Mehta, is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “He’s exploring elements of philosophy and some of the bigger life questions more directly on the page.”
The planned print run for each individual volume is 300,000, with an additional print run of 50,000 for the box set.
The dual announcement is not completely unprecedented for a marquee author. In 1996, Stephen King published a pair of novels – Desperation and, using his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, The Regulators – simultaneously with complementary covers that, when combined, created one single image. Knopf has decided on a similar treatment for the two McCarthy novels, whose covers form mirror images of each other.
It’s a splashy return for the man Arthur refers to as “pretty much America’s greatest living novelist.”