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The Stonemason: A Play in Five Acts

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  886 ratings  ·  69 reviews
From a writer hailed as an American original -- and the author of the national bestsellers All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing -- comes a taut, expansively imagined drama about four generations of an African American family.

The setting is Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1970s. The Telfairs are stonemasons and have been for generations. Ben Telfair has given up his educatio
Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  886 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won't apologize for giving another 5 star rating to the most important author for me. It may not have been his longest or most profound (or maybe it was), but it is certainly well above all those other books that I rated at this level. My mind is rampaging about how to write my little, amateur review. This book even got me asking why I push these reviews out on this (likely) ephemeral electronic site, where most readers are people I haven't met, nor people I personally know and love. Perhaps a ...more
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, plays
I sought out and read The Stonemason for completeness, really (now I've read all of McCarthy's novels and plays), but I was pleasantly surprised - this is probably one of his better dramatic works. I haven't seen this performed, so I'm evaluating it more or less as a written piece only. There are some interesting dramatic elements, like the lead character, Ben, narrating his dialogue from a separate area of the stage (his character's representation in the drama is a mute "double"). I'm not sure ...more
Wayne Barrett
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, plays

I have been so desperate for McCarthy's work that, having read all his novels, I am now reading his plays. The Stonemason is another powerful piece by Cormack telling the story of 4 generations of family members dwelling and working together and their eventual decline and loss. Starting with Pawpa, the 102 year old patriarch and cornerstone of the family, the family structure slowly crumbles, leaving us with a picture of humanity like only McCarthy can portray.

The man is 84, so I don't know if
Steven Gilbert
Made me wish I worked with my hands and not a keyboard. That's the beauty of a book: It can change even the idea you have of yourself.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
A beautiful play about four generations of family, stones, masonry, God, pain and suffering.
Sep 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama-kids-fuck
Maybe it's just because of my health, but this really worked for me. It is a rather lovely story that I only wish had been novelized rather than given the play treatment. One left (a screenplay!) for complete-o-rama of the 'Mac. The play has a guileless core and a sweetness to it that is hard to not admire. Written before McCarthy went Full Cowboy, this belongs to the Suttree side of the corpus. Skip The Sunset Limited and proceed directly here.

Now can I get a show of hands in agreement that Cor
Evan Leach
This play focuses on an African-American family living in Louisville in the 1970's. The emphasis is on the relationship between a young man (Ben) and his grandfather, a master stonemason. This is a quiet, contemplative work, with much of the action occurring offscreen as Ben sits quietly in the family kitchen, thinking or talking with relatives.

According to Wikipedia, this play is rarely performed, and I don't necessarily find that surprising. I'm not quite sure how it would work as a performanc
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 Americ ...more
Edwin Arnaudin
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
A powerful play of the black experience that belongs in the same conversation as A Raisin in the Sun and Fences. McCarthy's powerful language is on full display here with no epic descriptions in which to hide, and it succeeds masterfully.

Ben is a tragic character, one of those idealistic good guys who thinks he can help everyone yet winds up arguably doing more harm. His grandfather, Papaw (Pap-paw) is a fascinating man; Ben heeding his wisdom and both Big Ben and Soldier ignoring it makes for
Wilson Dolaghan
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
It is an easy trap to fall into to assume whenever a writer tells a story centered around a character's relationship with a trade that they are actually talking about writing. I can't say to a certainty that this was McCarthy's intent with The Stone Mason, and perhaps the early derision of Marx is meant to distance it from such an interpretation, but having read it through that lens, I felt that this play was a more profound reflection on the spiritual nature of that true vocational calling (see ...more
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Odd reading a "play", but I was quickly sucked in to the relationships between Ben, Soldier, and PawPaw
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
After the 2011 HBO production of his play The Sunset Limited and last year’s Hollywood film of his script The Counselor, Cormac McCarthy’s work as a playwright began to intrigue me. Known more for his description-laden prose, McCarthy (arguably one of the most important American authors of the late 20th century) doesn’t at first blush seem like the kind of guy who could pare his style down enough for the stage.

Clearly, though, he is fascinated by drama. He was likely inspired by director Richar
James Ferrett
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Stonemason is an interesting play about a black family in the States. The Telfairs are about to undergo an unavoidable, unpredictable series of catastrophes (like many of Cormac McCarthy's main characters do).

Confession: I wouldn't have picked this up if I wasn't working through every piece of Cormac McCarthy writing ever. This was the last thing left to read before I finish his oeuvre with the novel Suttree. Screenplays or short works haven't been the highlights of this project, as McCarthy
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I love this book. One of Cormac McCarthy's few, maybe only, uplifting novels, though written as a play. As always, McCarthy's amazing command of language is on display, and this book spoke to me about what we owe each other. It is about the one member of the younger generation in a family who has his act together, and does not want to be dragged down by the rest of the family. He says, "I see failure all around me, and I don't want to fail". In the interest of avoiding spoilers I won't discuss h ...more
Oct 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays, first-edition
I liked it. Powerful and moving. As others have noted, the stage directions are extensive and complicated. You can read this as a novellla and probably it should have been written as one. In any case, the prose is classic McCarthy: "Things that you can touch go away forever. I dont know what it means that things exist and then exist no more. Will that namelessness into which we vanish then taste of us? The world was before man was and it will be again when he is gone. But it was not this world n ...more
Tyler Harris
Mar 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great, passionate play on grief set in my own town of Louisville, KY. It's an emotional, occasionally devastating read.
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, own, plays
Some of the stage directions were a little funky. And play-writing isn't McCarthy's strong-suit but it's a pretty damn good play.
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Cormac McCarthy is a powerhouse and The Stonemason is one of his finest works. It is the only play that he has written and I know not if it was ever performed. Theaters should take notice of it. It is an unremittingly dark piece of work centered around an impoverished African American family in the South. Ben shares a strong bond with his grandfather, the both of them toilers of the trade of masonry. Tragedies, one after the other, beset this family. As with all things McCarthy, death looms larg ...more
Susan Messer
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't even know Cormac McCarthy had written a play, and plays are hard for me to read. It's a different way of developing characters than in a novel. And the staging directions are complex, kind of a split-screen situation. Lots of tragedies withing this black family in Kentucky in the 70s. Maybe it feels a little dated now; so much has happened re: public consciousness and race. But i found the focus on work and stonemasonary moving and compelling--the idea that we make things with our work ...more
Mike Hammer
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
a decent play, with sharp focus on family dynamics
i was a bit underwhelmed and confused by the last scene
mcarthy is a good writer but is often murky on events, the feelings always come through strongly tho
Daniel Pivonka
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chris Parsons
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
A stone just feels heavy yet soft when holding it. When chucked at your head however, it could possibly concuss or kill you. Same goes for this play, but double.
Dec 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Taking place in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, this play follows the Telfair family over the course of a few years as they navigate various family events - birth, death, struggles with money. The protagonist, Ben Telfair, shares his views in monologues peppered throughout the play. But while some reviewers liked these monologues, I actually found them distracting and would quickly read through them to get back to the action at hand, which was simply following what happens to this struggling ...more
Jun 17, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This play tries to do too much—too many characters, too many thematic threads, too many generations and relationships and moral dilemmas for such a short piece. I did like this little bit, though, from a conversation between the main character and his wife about justice:
The rain falls upon the just
And also on the unjust fellas
But mostly it falls upon the just
Cause the unjust have the just's umbrellas.

I also liked this:
In my dream I had died or the world had ended and I stood waiting before the d
Mar 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this short play, which actually feels rather longish, owing to the lengthy stage directions. Alas, it did not live up to expectations. While there are some good things about this piece, including characters I wanted to like, the writing quality was surprisingly lacking. There are some truly odd lines in here, including such clunkers as, 'The Semetic God was a god of the common man and that is why he'll have no hewn stones on his altar.' It feels strange to say I thought the ...more
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I saw Cormac McCarthy's only play in the library and though I felt like I should read more of his novels first I decided to borrow it anyway to better motivate me to pay more attention to a writer I have no real excuse to ignore like I have since I read Blood Meridian.

As far as plays go, this play meets all my criteria for five stars. Though I prefer plays with a little more excitement there is really no other complaint a sensible person can make against this five act drama. It has depth, capti
Brian Willis
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Like McCarthy's novels, a slow burner that creeps up on you and then tears your heart out. Suffice to say, I can't get into too much detail without spoiling the play, but it does deal with four generations of a stonemasonry family of African-American descent, and the stonemasonry is an elaborate metaphor, and the family is complicated, and there is some Brechtian stagecraft going on here, and the emotional impact hits you hard and multiple times once it sets in. The family name of Telfair is imp ...more
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
My first foray into Cormac McCarthy's dramatic work. This taut family drama hinges on making the right choices and how men need good male role models. The majority of the five-act play centers on the main character Ben Telfair and his 100-year-old grandfather, and the lessons that traditional stone masonry have to teach about life and god. Three deaths set the family reeling and force Ben to make choices that he must reckon with later. The settings for the play would make it difficult to stage, ...more
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theater
My first thoughts with the book was "this is not McCarthy." Assuredly, it's not him at his norm but his style is very apparent as the play goes. Unusual for his style in that this is way more openly poetic and philosophical than anything I have known by him. Not that McCarthy (an American genius) ever lacked such qualities, but through the voice of Ben you get it up close and personal. Fantastic. I'd love to see this performed.
May 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Silver and I read this one aloud. It tore me apart, unsurprisingly (Cormac McCarthy has a way of doing that to me). Completely unfeasible to put on stage (although it was attempted, once, with large alterations from what I understand) but I think of it (like The Sunset Limited) as more of a book in play form.

McCarthy's characterizations are extremely human, and extremely believable, which makes it hurt so much more to read it.
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Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

His earlier Blood M
“They's lots of work in this world that aint never paid for. But the accounts gets balanced anyway. In the long run. A man that contracts for work and then dont pay for it, the world will reckon with him fore it's out. With the worker too. You live long enough and you'll see it. They's a ledger kept that the pages dont never get old nor crumbly nor the ink dont never fade. If it dont balance then they aint no right in this world and if they aint then where did I hear of it at? Where did you? Only way it wont is you start retribution on you own. You start retribution on you own you'll be on you own. That man up there ain goin to help you. Aint no use even to ask.” 8 likes
“The wisdom of the journeyman is to work one day at a time and he always said that any job even if it took years was made up out of a day's work. Nothing more. Nothing less. That was hard for me to learn. I always wanted to be finished. In the concept of a day's work is rythme and pace and wholeness.” 3 likes
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