Oprah: No Medium for an Old Man

The body language said it all.

Throughout today’s much-touted interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, master writer Cormac McCarthy sat slumped, his head resting heavily on his hand. Was this the posture of a man who had lived to regret his decision to agree to his “first television interview ever”?mccarthy.jpeg

Oprah clearly couldn’t believe her good fortune and repeated that boast three or four times during the course of the broadcast. His first television interview and, yessir, she was the one who nailed this journalistic coup. Not “Sixty Minutes” or Charlie Rose, not Katie Couric or that cow Barbara Walters. It was Oprah who got her man.

But what exactly did she get? Certainly no great epiphanies. It was a minimalistic performance on McCarthy’s part. He wasn’t guarded or unforthcoming, more like indifferent or, at best, bemused. Opie started off with a truly sparkling observation, “You look just like you do on the back cover of your book” and it hardly got any better after that.

Their little chat was conducted, at his behest, in the comforting surroundings of the library at the Santa Fe Institute where he likes to hang out. He slouched back in his chair, trying to put as much physical space between the two of them as possible. Every few minutes there would be odd, jarring breaks, cuts to talking head shots of Oprah describing the narrative of the book before darting back to the interview.

McCarthy’s responses to her softball questions were…well, I don’t think it would be unfair to characterize them as monotonic. There was no depth to his answers. I scribbled notes on a pad as I watched and I’ve underlined words like sheepish, deadpan, neither alert nor particularly attentive. When Opie asks him to sum up the message of THE ROAD, the best McCarthy can do is murmur: “We should appreciate life more, be grateful for what we have”. This from a man noted for his mastery of the English language, the complexity of his prose? Oh, brother…

A thoroughly uninspired and half-hearted effort on his part. There was one particularly awkward moment when he stated that he has trouble understanding women and Opie piped up indiscreetly “But you’ve had three wives!” For a man noted for his privacy, I thought this a particularly stupid and indelicate comment. “You are a different kind of writer,” she giggled at the conclusion of the segment and I had to cast my eyes heavenward. Lord, forgive her for she is too dumb to know any better…

My notes conclude with the following observations:

If this interview was a magazine piece, it would have been rejected by every print publication of note. VANITY FAIR or ESQUIRE would have turned it down with a form reply. It is pure fluff, the subject exposes nothing, reveals nothing. He didn’t play with his interviewer a la Dylan or Brando, he merely reveals his utter indifference to the entire process. He foolishly accepted the interview and as a polite Southerner was determined to see it through to the end. It was an obligation to be fulfilled with the minimum expenditure of effort on his part…

McCarthy’s taking the Oprah gig was a head-scratcher to start with. His non-appearance neither redeems nor exonerates him. It was an ill-advised move on his part, a rare misstep for a man I still admire, despite his ill-fitting feet of clay…


See: my Amazon.com review


  1. bibliomom

    I missed the interview but read the book. Not because Oprah told me but because I wanted to. Free will in reading what a concept. After reading this I’m glad that I didn’t waste my time.

  2. Josh

    I thought the interview was great. He answered all of her questions with great honesty and I learned quite a bit about him. He came across as sincer and wise.

  3. Darshan

    I’m curious. . .

    If you got the phone call from Oprah’s folks that they wanted to have you on the show, or perhaps one better, have one of your books on Oprah’s list AND have you on the show, how would you react?

    And in all honesty, feel free NOT to answer. Just a knowing wink will do!

  4. El Condor

    Cliff already knows some of my thoughts on this interview but I will share a little further.
    I agree Cormac was honest and sincere, and since he was not overly complimentary or touting his own work, that can come off as standoffish.
    But, at first he was not in agreement to do the interview (therefore he did not ‘jump’ at the opportunity) though after the 48 hours consideration he did acquiesce.
    I found his responses on the writing craft, and on readership, sales etc. to be an exemplary response to the artist’s role/creation, and in Oprah’s marketing/financial mindset she had trouble grasping that notion; which is why she called him a different type of writer?
    I did enjoy learning he never worked in his life — or worked at not working, as he put it — and admitted his own good fortune. For someone who spent most of his life in apparent poverty he has taken all this in stride it seems.
    I also enjoyed learning that he writes/owns on an Olivetti Lettera 32 manual typewriter, as i happen to have one, but somehow doubt that by using it I would accomplish the same results…
    I did find her new book club recommendation a bit on the safe/banal/sensasationalist side, but oh well I wasn’t really waiting with bated breath for that announcement…
    oh and lastly it was nice she had Michael Moore on there discussing health care in America so she can see how the other half (or 75%?) lives, and not just the critical problems in Africa.. [wow, Cuba has a ‘better’ health care system? quelle surprise.]
    *This episode must have been her ‘smart’ one for the year so I am glad I did catch it and now can avoid watching for another cycle around the sun.*

  5. jadunham

    This is an interesting post. I saw the interview and have read The Road. I am also a big Oprah fan. After seeing Mr. McCarthy on Oprah, I think I’m an even bigger Cormac McCarthy fan. He came across cool, collected, not at all worried about the media frenzy surrounding his Pulitzer prize winning novel. He said he didn’t really care if millions of people were reading his stuff. He writes for the pure joy of writing. I love that! If I remember correctly, Oprah was trying to get him to plunge deep by asking what the novel was saying metaphorically. He simply and humbly responded, it’s just a tale about a father and his son. That’s all.

  6. Pingback: The Post-Book Review Age « Mike Cane's xBlog

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