I’ LL NEVER FORGET THE MOMENT I received my advance review copy of Cormac McCarthy’s long-awaited novel No Country for Old Men (Knopf). It was all shiny and new, and the countdown clock on cormacmccarthy.com showed 109 days, 15 hours, 17 minutes, and 42.41.40 seconds to the publication date. (The Web site was created ten years ago by the Cormac McCarthy Society—and assuredly not by the author, who is famously indifferent to the palpitations of his admirers.)
I too felt the excitement. I thought about selling my copy on eBay for a C-note, maybe more. What I did instead was start reading it over a bowl of gumbo at an overrated Austin eatery. The gumbo grew cold because I couldn’t stop reading. But the real proof of an irresistible narrative hook occurred at my next stop, Nelda Wells Spears’s tax store, where I had gone to pay my property tax installment. Absorbed by the mounting carnage, I didn’t hear my number (eighty) and had to wait through an entire new cycle. So I was there for a while.
The style will pull in readers who have never heard of McCarthy. Pared down, it eschews the baroque, elaborate, lengthy sentences characteristic of his previous fiction. But it is no less compelling. As usual, he refuses to use quotation marks, a practice that drives some readers crazy. I for one love it. James Joyce started this, or maybe Gertrude Stein, but at any rate it’s a trademark of modernism, of which McCarthy is a sterling exemplar.