Cormac McCarthy, the formidable and reclusive writer of Appalachia and the American Southwest, whose raggedly ornate early novels about misfits and grotesques gave way to the lush taciturnity of “All the Pretty Horses” and the apocalyptic minimalism of “The Road,” died on Tuesday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 89.
Mr. McCarthy’s fiction took a dark view of the human condition and was often macabre. He decorated his novels with scalpings, beheadings, arson, rape, incest, necrophilia and cannibalism. “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” he told The New York Times magazine in 1992 in a rare interview. “I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea.”
His characters were outsiders, like him. He lived quietly and determinately outside the literary mainstream. While not quite as reclusive as Thomas Pynchon, Mr. McCarthy gave no readings and no blurbs for the jackets of other writers’ books. He never committed journalism or taught writing. He granted only a handful of interviews.
The mainstream, however, eventually came to him. “All the Pretty Horses,” a reflective western that cut against the grain of his previous work, won a National Book Award in 1992, and “The Road” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. Both were made into films, as was Mr. McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2008.
That film, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, gave the world the indelible image of Javier Bardem as Mr. McCarthy’s nihilistic hit man Anton Chigurh, dispatching his victims with a pneumatic bolt gun meant for cattle.
Mr. McCarthy had in recent years been discussed as a potential winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The critic Harold Bloom named him one of the four major American novelists of his time, alongside Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, and called Mr. McCarthy’s novel “Blood Meridian” (1985), a bad dream of a Western, “the greatest single book since Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying.’”
Saul Bellow noted Mr. McCarthy’s “absolutely overpowering use of language, his life-giving and death-dealing sentences.”