by Steven Frye
University of Alabama Press, 2023
Cloth: 978-0-8173-2153-6 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-9446-2 | Paper: 978-0-8173-6109-9
Library of Congress Classification PS3563.C337Z65 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.54


Literary naturalism at play in one of America’s most visionary novelists: Cormac McCarthy

It took six novels and nearly thirty years for Cormac McCarthy to find commercial success with the National Book Award–winning All the Pretty Horses, followed by major prizes, more best sellers, and Hollywood adaptations of his work. Those successes, though, have obscured McCarthy’s commitment to an older form of literary expression: naturalism.

It is hardly a secret that McCarthy’s work tends to darker themes: violence, brutality, the cruel indifference of nature, themes which would not be out of place in the writing of Jack London or Stephen Crane. But literary naturalism is more than the oversimplified Darwinism that many think of. Nature may be red in tooth and claw, and humans are part of nature, but the humanity depicted in naturalist literature is capable of love, selflessness, and spirituality, as well.

In Unguessed Kinships, Steven Frye illuminates all these dimensions of McCarthy’s work. In his novels and plays, McCarthy engages both explicitly and obliquely with the project of manifest destiny, in the western drama Blood Meridian, the Tennessee Valley Authority-era Tennessee novels, and the atomic frontier of Alamogordo in Cities of the Plain. McCarthy’s concerns are deeply religious and philosophical, drawing on ancient Greek philosophy, Gnosticism, and Nietzsche, among other sources. Frye argues for McCarthy not merely as a naturalist writer but as a naturalist in the most expansive sense. Unguessed Kinships includes biographical and historical context in each chapter, widening the appeal of the text to not just naturalists or McCarthy scholars but anyone studying the literature of the South or the West.

See other books on: 1933- | 1933-2023 | Hope | Naturalism | Naturalism in literature
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