Cormac McCarthy, whose unflinching depictions of America’s bleak frontiers and grim underbelly earned him global acclaim, died on Tuesday aged 89.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men” — both of which became feature films — passed away of natural causes at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, his publisher said, citing his son.
Over his nearly six-decade long career, McCarthy won major literary awards at home and abroad for a dozen soul-wrenching novels written in sparse, piercing prose.
Considered a demanding but honest writer, his clinical descriptions of carnage and inner torment won him a loyal following.
McCarthy wrote his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” while working at a car parts shop in Chicago in the 1960s — it was published by Random House.
His editor at the time, Albert Erskine, had also worked for William Faulkner, a writer who McCarthy admired and with whom he is sometimes compared.
The raw and violent book is an ode to the savage natural environment of the mountains of Tennessee, the southern state where he has raised.
McCarthy’s focus on the dark contours of humanity remained the through line of his work, gaining him an ardent fan base and critical success.
“If it doesn’t concern life and death,” he told Rolling Stone in 2007, “it’s not interesting.”
“Child of God,” published in 1973, is about a man who heads into the Appalachian mountains to live apart from society. It contains descriptions of murder and necrophilia.
– ‘Maybe the greatest’ –
By contrast, McCarthy’s “Suttree,” published six years later, is often described as his most humorous novel. He worked on the book, which depicts an outcast community living on the Tennessee River, on and off for some 20 years.
News of his death prompted tributes from fellow writers including Stephen King, who hailed McCarthy as “maybe the greatest American novelist of my time.”
“He was full of years and created a fine body of work, but I still mourn his passing.”
In 1981, McCarthy received one of the MacArthur Foundation’s so-called genius grants, and he spent the next part of his life living in El Paso, Texas on the border with Mexico.
His book “Blood Meridian” was a post-apocalyptic Western set in Texas and Mexico during the 1840s.
On publication in 1985 it received a lukewarm reception but later critics recognized it as one of the 20th century’s greatest works.
The 1990s brought the release of The Border Trilogy — “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Crossing,” and “Cities of the Plain” — all set in the American West.
Despite Erskine’s lament that “we never sold any of his books,” “All the Pretty Horses” became a surprise hit, garnering a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
Hollywood took notice: a film version starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz came out in 2000.
In 2008, an adaptation of his novel “No Country for Old Men” by directors Joel and Ethan Coen won four Oscars, including one for Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
– The Road –
A year earlier McCarthy won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Road,” the story of a father and son making their way across a dystopian landscape.
Oprah Winfrey named the novel one of her book club selections, giving McCarthy a massive publicity boost, and it was made into a film starring Viggo Mortensen.
McCarthy’s final works were a pair of companion novels — “The Passenger” and its prequel “Stella Maris” — both published in 2022 and tackling complex issues of grief and the nature of knowledge.
Born on July 20, 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island, McCarthy’s family had moved to Tennessee, where his father worked as a lawyer, when he was four years old.
His given name was Charles, but he changed it to Cormac, after an Irish king. He opted not to finish university and instead embarked on a full-time career in writing.
Reclusive and known for his austere lifestyle — for years, he lived in motels — McCarthy was married three times and had two sons.
He gave only a handful of interviews, including on Winfrey’s talk show.
McCarthy told her that he preferred not to think too much about writing.
“I don’t think that it’s good for your head,” he said. “If you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it — you should be doing it.”
© Agence France-Presse