texasmonthly.com: When did you become a Cormac McCarthy fan?
Don Graham: In 1993 or 1994. I had heard of him before and knew that he had something of a cult following. I was on a plane coming back from L.A., and a young woman across the seat from me was immersed in All the Pretty Horses, which had been published in 1992 to great fanfare. I asked her if she liked it, and she said no, she loved it. So I read it.
texasmonthly.com: What sets No Country for Old Men apart from McCarthy’s other novels?
DG: It’s a pure, or nearly pure, genre novel, and he hasn’t really done anything like a crime novel before. Also the style is much leaner. It’s an incredibly fast read.
texasmonthly.com: Is No Country simply a good airplane read, or is it timeless art as prescribed by Yeats?
DG: I think it has real ambitions. McCarthy cannot write anything just for the John Grisham/Tom Clancy crowd. Everything he does is smarter, deeper, more literary.
texasmonthly.com: Why does McCarthy make religion so important?
DG: I think he believes that religion comes closer than just about anything else to explaining the very real problem of evil in the world or at least to offering some modicum of consolation. McCarthy is all about action, not feelings—evil, not therapy.
texasmonthly.com: Why does McCarthy set this novel in 1980, at the end of the Carter era?
DG: I’m not sure. I think he didn’t want it to be too much about today, but the drug-related violence in places like Nuevo Laredo (and Dallas) certainly makes the novel seem even more relevant. Perhaps he believes that around 1979 or thereabouts things changed for the worse.
texasmonthly.com: What role does politics play in the novel?
DG: Most of the politics in the novel are reflected in the meditations and commentaries of the old sheriff, who believes that things are falling apart in West Texas and the rest of the country.
texasmonthly.com: What about West Texas lends itself to the narrative?
DG: West Texas appeals to McCarthy, I think, because he likes the spareness of the landscape, the harsh history of that land, and the homely courage with which people, “common as dirt,” as the sheriff says, face the essential tragedy of life.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have any guesses as to the unrevealed origin of the antagonist’s philosophy?
DG: My guess is that it’s some form of Gnosticism, about which there has been a good deal written with regard to its manifestations in Blood Meridian.
texasmonthly.com: What patterns do you see across McCarthy’s novels?
DG: An old-fashioned concern with honor, the terrible cost of being human, the presence of violence and war in modern and ancient times. McCarthy believes that evil exists, and that puts him in select company, in my view.
texasmonthly.com: Do you know why McCarthy is so indifferent to his fans? Does this indifference free him to write what he wants?
DG: I just think McCarthy figures that there is only so much time in a writer’s life and that his job is to write, not to try to cultivate fans. Melville and Faulkner are two predecessors, who in their best works, wrote without giving a damn whether they had an audience or not. There are plenty of lesser writers around who specialize in fan-based writing.
texasmonthly.com: How will people regard McCarthy’s work after he is gone? Will they place him in the same ranks as Melville and Faulkner?
DG: I think he has a good shot at lasting, but you never know. I think he will, though.