Known most notably for her previous book on McCarthy’s early work, Reading the World (2009), Dianne Luce has undertaken a project that is, even by her lofty standards, daunting. In Embracing Vocation, Luce has set out to write a biographically informed history of McCarthy’s “writing life.” What is so challenging about this project is the dearth of reliable biographical information; we simply do not know many details about his personal life. What we think we know often has a couple of different iterations, like the old Appalachian folktales he so clearly adored. Relying on archived correspondence, personal interviews, and multiple drafts of the novels, this book seeks to provide a largely professional biography of McCarthy’s early career.

The book is divided into three parts, which correspond to McCarthy’s first three novels, The Orchard Keeper (1965), Outer Dark (1968), and Child of God (1973). These parts are structured around what...

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