I reached McCarthy by phone in Texas and put it to him that perhaps the public found his tales a mite bleak. “Jolly tales,” he said, “are not what it is all about. My feeling is that all good literature is bleak. When a work gets a certain gloss on it with age, and the current reality of it is dulled, then we can say what has and what does not have the true tragic face. I’m guided by the sweep and grandeur of classical tragedy. Mine are the conditions common to people everywhere and finally the work has little to do with any personal aberration of the characters.”
I suggested that perhaps one reason his work has not secured its deserved audience was that his characters were indeed cast adrift in some “unanimous dark of the world,” within a “lethal environment” which offered neither relief nor instruction, pre-wheel times, time without mercy, time presided over by the implacable face of Nothingness, with a will to survive, fortitude, as the only and last testament. Whereas today’s reader wanted events explained, lamented, accounted for: Lester is the way he is because he comes from a broken home, his parents whipped him, he had no shoes until he was ten years old.
“I don’t doubt it,” McCarthy said. “Modern readers are a lot more familiar with Freud than with Sophocles.”
I asked him how difficult he finds it to write these amazing novels. “I work on each for several years,” he said, “and am brought to the brink of innumerable suicides. I want, even for the worst of the characters, grace under pressure, some slinking nobility.”
I asked him what he had been reading lately.
“I’ve just finished Shakespeare and the Common Understanding,” he said. “And one of your guys, Michael On—? How do you say it?”
“That’s right. Ondaatje. Wonderful stuff.”
From Brick 27, Spring 1986,