BOOKS: Stella Maris: Cormac McCarthy

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Mar. 18—"Stella Maris" does not really answer the frustrating questions left behind in "The Passenger" but it is a response to its partner novel.

Sixteen years after "The Road," novelist Cormac McCarthy released two novels late last year: "The Passenger" followed immediately by its sequel/prequel "Stella Maris."

"The Passenger" introduced two siblings — both math prodigies, both the children of a father who helped develop the atomic bomb and usher in the nuclear age where the siblings and all of us live, both in love with one another, the sister surrounded by "personages" who counsel her while the rest of the world counsels the personages are symptoms of schizophrenia, the brother haunted by the self-inflicted death of his sister.

"The Passenger" sets a pattern of give and take. Readers are immersed in the story of brother Bobby, a salvage diver pursued by the feds after he discovers a submerged plane missing its black box. Sister Alicia deals with her hallucinated personages led by a deformed character called the Kid.

"The Passenger" is obtuse, the plot a meandering often broken thread snaking through the powerful language of McCarthy's writing. There is the story, the chase, the past, the taboo love of siblings, the long realization of Alicia's situation and numerous conversations about mathematics, history, conspiracies, philosophy, etc.

"Stella Maris" doesn't really shed any light on what happened in "The Passenger."

Alicia has checked herself into Stella Maris, a facility for "the care of psychiatric medical patients."

Though the second book, in many ways an epilogue to "The Passenger," it is really a prequel taking place about a decade before the events of the first book.

Conversations between Alicia and her unnamed therapist are the entirety of "Stella Maris." The conversations range from her upbringing, the love she has for Bobby — whom she believes to be "dead," and some other details about her personal life, but the bulk of the dialogue deals with philosophical constructs, mathematics and the interrelationships of what is real and what is imagined — what is genius and what is madness — and if there are any differences, really, between one and the other.

For some readers, the one-two punch of "The Passenger" and "Stella Maris" will be a hard-hitting mess of a novel(s), filled with soaring ideas, intriguing situations, fascinating characters and sharp, insightful writing.

For other readers, the books will simply be a confusing mess.