For those of you seeking a book full of adventure and a streamlined plot, I suggest you look elsewhere. However, if you’re fascinated by the unknowns of life and the external factors that can dictate the direction of our existence, The Passenger may be for you.
Written by Cormac McCarthy, who also brought us The Road, No Country For Old Men, and The Border Trilogy, The Passenger begins with an interesting premise. Set in the early 1980s, Robert Western is a salvage diver who must investigate a plane still full of people submerged in a lake. However, there’s a passenger missing with no explanation as to how. Because Robert witnessed this, entities begin to question him, pursue him, and even threaten him.
As Robert flees from something he doesn’t fully understand, we learn more about his complex relationship with his sister, his father’s role in modern warfare, his numerous and eccentric friendships, and his own eclectic past.
And for me, that’s the genius of the book. We often don’t know what is coming next in life. Many times, there are events occurring at both a national and global scale that can have incredible ramifications upon our own lives without us knowing it until after the fact. Though brilliant, Robert doesn’t fully understand what’s happening to him in the present or what his future holds, but he does regularly analyze his past and how it led to the present.
I mentioned Robert’s sister. Portions of The Passenger are dedicated to her as well. We get to experience her brilliance, her empathy, her kindness, and her supposed madness. My understanding is that Stella Maris, a book released in conjunction with The Passenger, focuses more so on Alicia Western, Robert’s sister. Of course, I’ll read that next.
At 89 years of age, Cormac McCarthy may be thinking about what comes next. He might also be looking back at his long life and reflecting on things. Those ideas can’t help but influence my interpretation of The Passenger. I initially thought The Passenger referred to the missing person from the downed plane, but now I believe The Passenger refers to Robert Western himself, and all of us, really, as we are simply along for the ride during our allotted years upon this planet.