November 13, 2009

Interview with Cormac McCarthy

It seems that every weekend the WSJ features great articles on books and authors. I live for the Weekend Journal. Today's paper has a wonderfully extensive interview with the notoriously private Cormac McCarthy, in which he comes off as decidedly more personable than I imagined him to be. The interview comes in time for the upcoming theatrical release of "The Road" (which promises to be horrifically depressing), and it is interesting to hear McCarthy's views on his books' translations to film. Among the many other topics he discusses are religion, his son as inspiration for The Road, his relationships with filmmakers, his future book, and the status of the modern novel. Some excerpts:

On the unamed disaster in The Road:

I don't have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I'm with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything—volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who've gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it go on Thursday. No one knows.
[I knew it!]

On lengthy books:
People apparently only read mystery stories of any length. With mysteries, the longer the better and people will read any damn thing. But the indulgent, 800-page books that were written a hundred years ago are just not going to be written anymore and people need to get used to that. If you think you're going to write something like "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Moby-Dick," go ahead. Nobody will read it. I don't care how good it is, or how smart the readers are. Their intentions, their brains are different.

On what he writes:
I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

I highly suggest reading the rest of the article and interview, "
Hollywood's Favorite Cowboy."

Also in today's Journal is an article, "
When Brevity is a Virtue," about a number of short story collections by established authors being published this season. I've been reading more short stories than usual lately, so I was especially interested to read the article's discussion of the place and purpose of the short story today. And it definitely got me interested in reading some of these upcoming collections, namely Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness. Hopefully there will be more great literary articles in tomorrow's Journal as well.


  1. I know you put the disaster part in for me. AH SUPER VOLCANOS!

  2. I've never read McCarthy and he sounds like a very interesting man who writes very interesting novels, but I didn't appreciate his comment about short stories. He seems to think that if it's shorter, it must take less time to write. I spent almost two years working on one of my short stories. I went to a George Saunders reading (I highly recommend his short stories, by the way) and he said he has spent years working on a story multiple times. If McCarthy's not interested in writing short stories, he doesn't have to write them, but his statement here sounds so condescending.

    I'm also suspect about his lengthy novels comment. After all, people still read Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov, don't they? We know they still read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Or does this theory only apply to non-classics?

  3. Hayley: of course I put that in for you. See, even Cormac himself is scared of them!!

    Erin: I totally understand what you mean, and he certainly does come off as kind of condescending in that regard. I guess because he doesn't really write short stories (that I know of) he has a very different view of them. I wonder how he reads short stories by other writers though, and if his view of reading them corresponds with his view on writing them. I mostly included that because I found his suicide comment amusing. (you should def read the other article I linked, it gives a much more favorable view of short stories!)
    And I think that regarding his lengthy novels comment, he was referring more to modern novels. People will always read the huge classics, and they will always hold up and be important, but contemporary writers have a much harder time finding audiences for big books because our mindsets (and patience) have changed so much (is I think what he is saying).

  4. ps. I hope this doesnt put you off McCarthy Erin, because he really is amazing!

  5. Lianne, I agree with you and Erin. I found his tone a bit negative. I've read many books that were 600-700 pages, and would have no problems with a novel that length. I think it was too generalizing.

    But having read The Road, I found it quite depressing, and wasn't sure after I read what it was really about. I liked it. I liked the characterizations, but there really didn't seem to be a plot.