The Last McCarthy: The Pain and Truth of “Stella Maris”


By John

It’s difficult to close «Stella Maris» (Einaudi), the last and already legendary novel of the legendary Cormac McCarthy, without a lump in the throat due to emotion, to emotion. Yes, it is difficult to hold back the tears once «Stella Maris» is closed. Both because you have it inside you the awareness of having just finished reading a unique, perfect novel of rarefied beauty, like the air that is breathed with difficulty at great heights; and because you realize that you have just finished reading an unrepeatable work, similar to an unattainable peak. And certainly there is a solution: you can always start reading it again.
«Stella Maris» is published in Italy by Einaudi, in the translation by Maurizia Balmelli. In theory it would be the sequel to “The Passenger” (a novel published a few months ago by Einaudi, again in Balmelli’s excellent translation), with which he composes a farewell diptych, including Cormac McCarthy’s farewell to this arduous corporal dimension of ours. And in fact «Stella Maris» is closely connected to «Passeggero», if only because the protagonist of «Stella Maris» is Alicia Western, Bobby’s younger sister, also the protagonist of «The Passenger».
The story is set in October 1972 and begins when the just twenty-year-old Alicia shows up at the Stella Maris clinic, a non-denominational facility and nursing home for medicalized psychiatric patients. Not a negligible detail, Alicia has two other hospitalizations behind her and, when she knocks on the door of Stella Maris, she has with her an envelope with forty thousand dollars in cash. But all this only makes sense as a formal connection with the previous novel of the diptych, because the reader can also put it aside. Alicia – a genius in mathematics and an extraordinary IQ, as well as a violinist and expert not only in the Cremonese school of luthiers but also (and obviously) in Bach – needs help, since she can’t bear the idea of ​​her brother’s death with whom he shared a painfully incestuous relationship. Here, this is where the novel begins which reveals itself from the beginning as the surprising “recording” of the long conversations between the brilliant Alicia and the patient Doctor Cohen who tries to keep up with her.
With extreme naturalness Alicia ranges from Kant to Gödel, from Quine to Wittgenstein (told with the simplicity of someone who knows), but she also abandons herself to the poisoned memories of an unfulfilled and suffering young woman. Therefore a novel composed only of dialogues, where the descriptions and events arise from the dialogues themselves. As in Greek tragedy, we see her story reconstructed by the stories of the actors on stage. An example taken at random: «(…) The truth of the universe was at the other end of those equations. What do physicists say about this? Nothing special. Mostly they roll their eyes. They are not Kantian types. The problem with the absolute unknowable is that if you could say something about it it would no longer be the absolute unknowable.” Another example: «Do you believe in a life after life? This is what I don’t believe in.” Who thought that in the evolution of the twentieth century novel-species the examples of would remain unsurpassed Georges Perec with «Life instructions for use» and David Foster Wallace with «Infinite Jest», after reading «Stella Maris» you will have to change your mind, due to McCarthy’s ability to contrast, in Calvino’s words, «the of the mind to the complexity of the world”.
So, what are you waiting for, go and buy «Stella Maris». This world will only get better if you read it.