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The Stonemason: A Play in Five Acts Paperback – August 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

It is fitting that Ecco Press, which reissued McCarthy's novels when most of the world was neglecting them, should publish a play that is still in search of a theater. But this story of deep trouble amidst four generations of a black family in Louisville, Kentucky, places McCarthy-arguably America's best living novelist-in the long tradition of novelists who have tried the dramatic form and failed to meet its elusive demands. There are some wonderful scenes, and obvious problems of stagecraft-such as cue lines for a god and impractical sets, including a real stone wall-are nothing a good director can't surmount. But a deeper flaw is that its conflicts are both overly transparent and insufficiently bodied forth in dramatic action. The main character, Ben, is wrong when he tells us that stonemasonry is man's first gift and oldest craft. Those in theater know there is an older one whose secrets are just as long, as hard, and as necessary to master. Recommended for comprehensive literature collections.
Peter Josyph, New York
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

National Book Award-winning novelist McCarthy does something daring for these days. He, white, proffers a play about a black family, a drama devoid of defensive race-consciousness in either himself or his characters. The Telfairs are an old Louisville family who, in the early 1970s, include four generations under one roof. Ben, 32, is the play's central character and, like Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, its explicator (two Bens appear onstage, one engaged in the action, the other at a podium). Ben earlier quit graduate school to follow his grandfather's trade, stonemasonry, which the old man, now 101, still plies. During the play, which proceeds through several deaths, the disappearance of Ben's rebellious teenage nephew, and the disclosure of Ben's father's infidelity as well as a birth and Ben's sister's remarriage, Ben struggles to be the strong center of the family and, Ben-the-narrator makes explicit, to understand the spiritual meanings of his grandfather's life and attachment to his trade. Although it might be more comfortably realized onscreen than onstage, this thoughtful drama is one fine response to the cry for art to be concerned with family values. (See also the May 15 Upfront review of The Crossing, McCarthy's sequel to his All the Pretty Horses. Ray Olson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679762809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679762805
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island. He later went to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel, The Orchard Keeper. The Orchard Keeper was published by Random House in 1965; McCarthy's editor there was Albert Erskine, William Faulkner's long-time editor. Before publication, McCarthy received a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he used to travel to Ireland. In 1966 he also received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant, with which he continued to tour Europe, settling on the island of Ibiza. Here, McCarthy completed revisions of his next novel, Outer Dark. In 1967, McCarthy returned to the United States, moving to Tennessee. Outer Dark was published by Random House in 1968, and McCarthy received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1969. His next novel, Child of God, was published in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, McCarthy worked on the screenplay for a PBS film called The Gardener's Son, which premiered in 1977. A revised version of the screenplay was later published by Ecco Press. In the late 1970s, McCarthy moved to Texas, and in 1979 published his fourth novel, Suttree, a book that had occupied his writing life on and off for twenty years. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, and published his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, in 1985. All the Pretty Horses, the first volume of The Border Trilogy, was published by Knopf in 1992. It won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was later turned into a feature film. The Stonemason, a play that McCarthy had written in the mid-1970s and subsequently revised, was published by Ecco Press in 1994. Soon thereafter, Knopf released the second volume of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing; the third volume, Cities of the Plain, was published in 1998.McCarthy's next novel, No Country for Old Men was published in 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a novel in dramatic form, The Sunset Limited, originally performed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and published in paperback by Vintage Books. McCarthy's most recent novel, The Road, was published in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is one of the finest books I've ever read. I've heard McCarthy compared with William Faulkner, and perhaps without Faulkner, we wouldn't have McCarthy. But, nowhere in Faulkner, or any other writer, have I encountered such fearless and unencumbered writing; such clarity. It is barely noticable that it's written in play form. Ancient and completely familiar; the writing is just like the simplicity, weight and gravity of the stone he describes.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't usually read plays, but I bought this one because, after finishing _Cities of the Plain_, I had read all of Cormac McCarthy's novels and was hungry for more. I was not disappointed. McCarthy's genius is no less evident in _The Stonemason_ than in any of his longer works; if anything, the shorter format of drama allows him to pack even more of his brilliant writing into every page. Many authors are said to have "an ear for dialogue"; McCarthy is the only one I know, of whom this is unquestionably true. Perhaps this explains the effortlessness with which he switches between his usual milieu (novels about white cowboys and outlaws) to the material in this book (a play about black craftsmen). Any more praise I can give to this work, and to McCarthy's other writings, cannot convey the tremendous power -- the sadness and joy - that one experiences in reading them. I only hope he still has some more books left in him.
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Format: Paperback
A play, rather than a novel, THE STONEMASON is one of the least known of Cormac McCarthy's works. It also is one of the most positive and least violent of his works (although three of thirteen named characters die during it).

The play spans about four years of the life of the Telfair family in the black section of Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1970s. The patriarch of the family is Papaw, 101 years old, who still works as a stonemason, his trade for ninety years. Both his son, Big Ben, and his grandson, Ben, also work as stonemasons. Ben is the central figure in the staged drama, who tries to hold the family together as the vicissitudes of life and being black in Louisville, Kentucky buffet it about. In addition, a double of Ben periodically delivers a retrospective, philosophical commentary from a podium to the far left of the stage.

The two principal themes of THE STONEMASON have to do with family bonds and with the redemptive quality of honest work well done. Here, that work is freestone masonry. "[T]rue masonry is not held together by cement but by gravity. That is to say, by the warp of the world. By the stuff of creation itself. The keystone that locks the arch is pressed in place by the thumb of God."

For Ben, "that the craft of freemasonry should be allowed to vanish from this world is just not negotiable." So he continues in the trade (even though he was also educated to be a teacher). But to what end? Freestone masonry was a dying craft in 1975, more so in 1995 when the play was written, and yet even more so today. Is Ben's quest quixotic? Is redemption through hard, skilled, honest labor still possible?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 3, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am always looking for new and contemporary stuff. This play fits the bill nicely. Cormac McCaarthy is one of my favorite authors and does not disappoint here. Very well done.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By jafrank on March 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
In spite of the rich prose style and the usually violent content which are the bread and butter of his novels, McCarthy can actually write a pretty decent play. And of all things, a play about a working class african-american family. The characters aren't the deepest, but he has a good sense of how they are linked to and beholden to each other. And in Ben he continues to explore something that comes up more in his early novels, namely, the triumphs and failures of different generations of Americans to communicate across an increasingly wide cultural/historical divide. This could almost be an entry in August Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle
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4 stars because there was some problems with dialect, there was some problem with speech for the characters and by plays-end it was obvious that McCarthay was speaking his own philosophy--not that there is something so wrong with that but I found something uneven about it. ALL IN ALL: McCarthy is just what people say about him: a true writer, his characters do come alive even in this play; he can deliver a story in an amazing literary way; he is funny. He is right on. A white man writing black that was a challenge for me to read neutrally to see how he did. Well, he did it well but it wasn't pure because "Negro" culture was anti-suicide in a big way. But all is forgiven for the way McCarthy presented "Pawpa" and his vibrant feelings about his 80-yr career as a stonemason. The old man felt like a person during times when society seemed dead set at preventing all Negro men from feeling their own person and manhood. AMAZING ALSO that McCarthy makes no big effort to demonstrate racism or talk about it too much. There was more happening in this family's life and times than racism. I just loved this reading experience. I love it that Mc Carthy was able to deliver a full story in a play.--MO
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