cover image Stella Maris

Stella Maris

Cormac McCarthy. Knopf, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-307-26900-3

McCarthy’s underwhelming companion piece to The Passenger, set eight years earlier, in 1972, begins with a one-paragraph case file for 20-year-old PhD candidate Alicia Western. Alicia, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has been dropped off at Stella Maris, a psychiatric hospital in rural Wisconsin, with over $40,000 in cash. What follows is a series of conversations between Alicia and her psychiatrist, Dr. Cohen, written like a play but with no exposition, stage directions, or dialogue tags. The subjects include mathematics, quantum mechanics, music theory, and obscure philosophy. Before Alicia arrived at Stella Maris, her Formula 1 driver brother, Bobby Western, had a crash during a race that put him into a coma. She’s in love with Bobby, but refuses to talk about him with Cohen until the third act. There are scraps of humor (“Mathematics is ultimately a faith-based initiative. And faith is an uncertain business,” Alicia tells Cohen), though not much tension, as the reader already knows how things will end (Alicia’s body is discovered on the first page of The Passenger). McCarthy has swum in these waters before, and with more impressive strokes. Strangely, The Passenger offers a more successful ending to the story of Alicia and Bobby. Though this volume feels extraneous, McCarthy diehards will still flock to it. (Dec.)