By Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy’s last two novels, The Road and especially No Country for Old Men, read like treatments, written in spare, action-describing prose sometimes interrupted with dialogue. Both were quickly adapted to the screen. So it’s not exactly surprising that his first book in seven years is a screenplay (Fox will release the Ridley Scott film on October 25), dropping the pretensions of the novel-form for the purest variety of the non-interior style that, at least for now, clearly interests him most.
Having not read one of his books in years, I’d begun to picture McCarthy as the hero of Don DeLillo’s Point Omega: an old man staring out at southwestern desert, contemplating science. But The Counselor belies that image: it’s bawdy and funny— “for a girl who liked girls she took an extraordinary interest in the male member. She sucked on it so hard it finally corrected my vision”—reminding me that the author imagines himself easily into the underworld (even if the characters maybe wax a little too philosophically) and its brutality; before the end credits, multiple characters, major and minor, will have literally lost their heads, most in inventively gruesome ways.
The titular hero, never named beyond his profession, is not unlike No Country’s Llewelyn Moss, a hero not quite cut out for the mess he gets himself into. The Counselor invests for the first time in a drug deal, hoping to use the easy profits to live happily ever after with his new wife. But the scheme goes awry when the septic-tank truck full of cocaine headed in from Mexico is hijacked, and the Counselor’s unseen partners assume he was in on it. The proceeding plague of violence plays like the product of unrestrained capitalism: money is shit, as the drugs spend almost the entire book in the septic-tank truck, while people are trash, their bodies left in barrels, in ditches, on curbs and, in one case, in a landfill. McCarthy depicts a filthy and heartless world in which savagery is so strong it can easily extinguish the truest love and most basic morals.