Hearing about the Coen brother’s latest project compelled me to pick up McCarthy’s source novel. The premise is simple enough. A Texas game hunter comes across the scene of a massacre – half-dozen Mexicans shot up with automatic weapons, a truck full of heroin, and a leather satchel of 2.4 million dollars.
From there, the book splits into the perspective of three characters: Moss, the game hunter on the run with the money; Chigurh, a sociopath assassin armed with a cattlegun; and Bell, the local sheriff who follows the trail of carnage.
I’ve likened McCarthy to a modern-day Hemmingway in the past, and I think the comparison holds true. His characters are placed in a naturalistic world of savage beauty. The bulk of the narrative is concerned with action, physical movement, utilizing tools and weapons, all written in McCarthy’s steady, rhythmic prose.
“The man stepped away from the vehicle. Chigurh could see the doubt come into his eyes at this bloodstained figure before him but it came too late. He placed his hand on the man’s head like a faith healer. The pneumatic hiss and click of the plunger sounded like a door closing. The man slid soundlessly to the ground, a round hole in his forehead from which the blood bubbled and ran down into his eyes carrying with it his slowly uncoupling world visible to see.”
There’s very little introspection – instead, Chigurh and Bell stare blankly at the wasteland horizon. Bell opens up a bit, however, in the form of short monologue chapters. He expresses fear and uncertainty of the new west – drug trafficking, poverty and addiction. He questions the force of violence, how its shaped both his life and the people of the land. It’s here that the carnage is given meaning, elevates the book above a straightforward gory pulp-thriller. In the first chapter, alluding to the horrors to follow, Bell says:
“They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I don’t know what them eyes was the windows to and I guess I’d as soon not know. But there is another view of the world out there and other eyes to see it and that’s where this is goin. It has done brought me to a place in my life I would not of thought I’d of come to. Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I don’t want to confront him. I know he’s real. I have seen his work. I walked in front of those eyes once. I wont do it again. I wont push my chips forward and stand up and go out to meet him. I aint just bein older. I wish that it was. I cant say that it’s even what you are willin to do. Because I always knew that you had to be willin to die to even do this job. That was always true. Not to sound glorious about it or nothin but you do. If you aint they’ll know it. They’ll see it in a heartbeat. I think it is more like what you are willin to become. And I think a man would have to put his soul at hazard. And I wont do that. I think now that maybe I never would.”
The Coen brothers have some quality source material – it’ll be interesting to see their take on this bleak tale. Trailer here.