He wrote one of the most powerful, memorable novels I have ever read—The Road, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2007—and now he’s dead. Cormac McCarthy, age 89.
The Road is a simple story: a father and his young son traverse a post-Apocalyptic world in search of . . . what they are searching for is not explicitly stated. Safety. Humanity. Hope. The next breath.
Like very few novels, The Road perfectly depicts and balances the best and worst of humankind. It shows us who we really are. It’s bleak, with a shred of hope. The indelible bond between father and son hit me hard and taught me something about parenting.
McCarthy was one of the most respected and famous novelists of his era. Yet he had little to do with the literary life. He gave no readings. He wrote no book blurbs for other authors. He never taught. He never wrote journalism. He gave few interviews. He never hung out or was friends with other writers. He was his own person, and you could see that reflected in his characters.
I admired the Western/love story mashup of All the Pretty Horses and the violent revelation of Blood Meridian. I didn’t read all of his books. I put some of them down. I saw the Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men and will never forget the cartel assassin played by Javier Barden.
McCarthy’s writing style was singular, explosive, and polarizing. His sentences lived as intensely and insanely as we do. He fought a forever war against punctuation. Plenty of dialogue, but never dialogue quotation marks. No colons or semicolons. Stingy as can be with commas. He even eschewed my beloved em-dashes. His sentences were nouns and verbs hammering each other. His style isn’t for everyone, and he didn’t care.
Worlds collided when McCarthy was a guest on Oprah after she picked The Road for her book club in 2007. His interview was awkward, which might be why he hardly ever did them. He said he didn’t care if a lot of people read his books. He only cared if his books were read by people who might find meaning in them.
Back in 1992, before any of his novels had sold well, he did an interview for the New York Times and said this: “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea.”
If that’s dangerous, what isn’t? Welcome to the world of Cormac McCarthy. RIP.