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A Cognac for Cormac

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These Days host Tom Fudge is a Cormac McCarthy fan and here he tells Culture Lust readers why.....

A Cognac for Cormac &
By Tom Fudge

I didn't spend much time watching the Academy Awards on Sunday, but I watched enough to hear the news that No Country for Old Men won the award for best picture. I enjoyed the movie, and I'm sure the Coen brothers deserve a lot of credit for making it. But the person most responsible for that movie was the man who wrote the novel, Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy has become my favorite writer. It's rare to pick up a novel and be immediately blown away by the quality of the prose. But that's what happens when you read McCarthy. And if you've seen the movie, No Country for Old Men , get a copy of the novel. You'll be struck by how much the scenes in the movie owe to the book. I don't think this happened because Joel and Ethan Coen revere McCarthy. They simply realized there was no way to improve on McCarthy's dialogue and descriptions.

One of the first things you notice, when reading McCarthy, is that he doesn't use quotation marks when he's writing dialogue. Here's one example, from No Country, in which the killer, Chigurh, interrogates the owner of a gas station. If you saw the movie, you'll remember this scene. Chigurh hears the owner say he goes to bed at about 9:30, then he says:

I could come back then.
We'll be closed then.
That's all right.
Well why would you be comin back? We'll be closed.
You said that.
Well we will.
You live in that house behind the store?
Yes I do.
You've lived here all your life?
The proprietor took a while to answer. This was my wife's father's place, he said. Originally.
You married into it.
If that's the way you want to put it.
I don't have some way to put it. That's the way it is.
Well I need to close now.

I've often thought writing is a visual medium because you see the written words. When your eyes pass over dialogue like McCarthy's, you're struck by how perfectly it captures the essence of the words and the drama of the situation. His method of leaving out punctuation is one way he does that.