Please Go Away

An open letter to Cormac McCarthy.
No Country For Old Man: McCarthy’s emergent celebrity reminds me of an eternal verity—writers are better heard than seen.
Illustration by Scott Laumann

Dear Cormac,

A couple of years ago the Texas Book Festival “Bookended” you. (They will Bookend anybody, so it’s nothing to feel cocky about.) Since you famously do not appear in person to receive awards and over the years have kept yourself as invisible as some desert derelict living under a bridge near Lordsburg, New Mexico, I was asked to say a few words on your behalf. This required me to give up my regular Saturday morning muni golf match, but I reluctantly agreed. I did this out of the goodness of my heart, without expectation of any small thank you gift, such as a turquoise string tie, a Santa Fe Institute coffee mug, or a sleeve of Titleists. People who pray to Jesus don’t expect trinkets either. I trust, by the way, that you eventually received the tokens of the festival’s affection. You can’t miss them—two huge lumps of limestone weighing a combined thirty pounds, each one engraved with an image of a cowboy hat with a book for its crown. Hard to imagine what it costs to ship those suckers or what somebody like you would do with them.

In my remarks to the swells at the book festival I depicted you and me as buddies who e-mailed each other all the time. Maybe they believed me. I said that you always began with “Hi Don” and tried to pass yourself off as some macho dude just back from a weekend of tequila-crawling in Juárez but that I knew differently. I knew that you really spent your weekends peddling Blood Meridian T-shirts on the plaza in front of the cathedral in Santa Fe.

Turns out I wasn’t that far off.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your sudden emergence as a visible celebrity, the kind that gets a cutaway shot during the Oscars. Where once your legion of fans could count on your artistic anonymity, now we see your phiz everywhere. For a long while, when I thought of reclusive American writers, three names came instantly to mind: J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy. The first managed to stay out of the public eye until a former lover wrote a tell-all memoir, permanently damaging his cult of secrecy. And although the second remains as little known as the Unabomber before he was captured, his work has deteriorated so

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