Published as the companion novel to Passenger, Cormac McCarthy’s Stella Maris is a kind of cipher to work through the first book. It is hard to review this text without some reference to Passenger; suffice it to say if I were recommending these books, I’d tell readers to start with Stella Maris for two reasons: hallucinations and context.
Alicia Western is twenty, clinically depressed, suicidal, and in possession of a trash bag filled with $40,000 when she admits herself to a mental hospital in 1972. Stella Maris is a record of every session she has with her physician, Dr. Robert Cohen. The entire novel is comprised of these transcripts which take place from her initial intake form in October and a final conversation that is, ostensibly, the last they have in her lifetime. These conversations cover everything from her childhood and family dynamic to her unhealthy and romantic feelings for her much older brother to her frequent and vivid hallucinations featuring a cast of characters as real to her as her blood relatives.
The book is neither upbeat nor linear because it is the progression of illness, pain, and loss rendered through patient-physician exchanges. There are gorgeous moments as there always are in McCarthy novels, but the book is essentially a meditation on death and the finite time we all have on this planet as is its sister piece Passenger. If you’re not in the mood for a long, dark, introspective sort of read, avoid Stella Maris. If you’re ready for some existential dread, this is the book for you.