His novels are full of food scenes, often in modest digs. Why do they resonate so much?
Dec. 19, 2022
Cormac McCarthy has long presented himself as a man of simple appetites. When Richard B. Woodward caught up with him in 1992, for a rare profile that ran in The New York Times Magazine, McCarthy was living an austere life in a cottage behind a shopping center in El Paso and eating his meals off a hot plate or in diners.
That sounded about right. Diners — which he sometimes calls cafeterias or lunchcounters or drugstores — are all over the place in McCarthy’s fiction. They’re homes away from home for his drifting men and women.
In a typical scene in “Suttree” (1979), the eponymous protagonist, mourning the death of his son, enters a bus station cafe alone on Thanksgiving and orders “two scrambled with ham and coffee.” These are served on an “oblong platter of gray crockery” as the cook turns “rashers of brains at the grill.” Now there’s a phrase — “brains at the grill” — that gourmands don’t hear often enough anymore.
The existential cowboys in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy novels, set out on the frontier, consume many of their meals fireside. Here too, though, hash houses are timeless way stations. The meals are, in this writer’s hands, private acts in public spaces.