Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Cormac McCarthy’s “Scenes of the Crime” was originally published in the June 10 & 17, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

Cormac McCarthy’s “Scenes of the Crime” is included in this fiction issue and isn’t a story at all; rather, it’s an excerpt of McCarthy’s screenplay for the forthcoming movie The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott, slated for release in November.

A few years ago, on another website, I got into a baffling argument with someone who claimed that McCarthy’s books were, from the beginning, written with the intent to cash in on a Hollywood film adaptation. Obviously, in the end we got no where, really; the person I was arguing with was not only demonstrably wrong but had read only one book by McCarthy (“My belief is: once you have read one of his books, you’ve read them all.” The book, by the way, was Blood Meridian. How that book became the basis of an argument that McCarthy was writing for two decades with Hollywood floating around his head is beyond me). Besides the fact that this screenplay reminded me of that pointless argument, I bring it up here because here we have a McCarthy screenplay. And, as far as enjoyable reading goes, it is nothing — nothing — like his novels.

The title is apt: this excerpt is a series of scenes of a crime, during which other crimes are committed, and that’s about it. At the beginning, we see men preparing a septic tank truck — cutting the tank in half, placing in some barrels, then welding it back together — for a drug run from Mexico to the United States. If you’ve seen Breaking Bad, you’re familiar with the territory and even with the intended rhythm of the edits. All of this plays out nicely, even if it’s familiar.

What follows is a mix of violent scenes, men behaving deliberately, with control, with technical acumen (like whittling a stick to the size of a bullet to plug up a hole), and no story, no character, no development.

Honestly, I have no problem with this on its face. This could make for a brilliant film, but why The New Yorker published an excerpt is beyond me. Present are McCarthy’s violence and landscape, but absent are the qualities that make those elements meaningful: McCarthy’s lyricism, his philosophical inquisitions, even his tension.

Since there is no story here, only familiar scenes, I’ve got nothing more to say. Bring on the film, and the next issue of The New Yorker.

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By |2013-06-14T00:44:12-04:00June 14th, 2013|Categories: Cormac McCarthy, New Yorker Fiction|2 Comments


  1. birne June 14, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Yeah, I agree, so let’s hope that the movie will be entertaining at least. And more important, let’s hope that he hasn’t lost it yet and that we can look forward to the Passenger. This script here reminds me a bit of No Country For Old Men. The novel is his weakest one but the movie is great.

    It is always quite dangerous to get into discussions about McCarthy. For reasons that are totally beyond me dicussions about that particular writer tend to attract the craziest people. Those people basically always have either only read one or both of his last two novels (The Road or No Country For Old Men) or just excerpts of some novels. And based on this they always try to make an argument about why he cannot write at all or why he is pretentious or why he does not even master English grammar (or makes mistakes in the Spanish) etc. As someone who visisted the beauty of a Bood Meridian or a Suttree or an Outer Dark etc I can only shake my head then.

  2. Trevor June 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I have moderate hopes for the movie. I like Ridley Scott fine. But I’m with you — I hope this didn’t divert too much attention from McCarthy’s next novel.

    I like what you say about discussions about McCarthy. Ha! During the argument I referred to above someone said something similar, pointing to a similar argument on another site. I think several McCarthy detractors have legitimate points that don’t happen to bother me, but it is certainly frustrating to get into “a discussion” with someone who has no basis for what they’re saying, and it’s hard to tell people who didn’t like The Road that they should still seek out The Outer Dark or Child of God.

    As far as No Country for Old Men goes, I thought it was a great novel and a brilliant film. This excerpt above reminded me of it merely for its setting and its look at the drug trade and the bit I put in about men behaving deliberately in manly ways (thinking of the parts where Chigurh and Moss are tending to their wounds and building their weaponry), but when I read this excerpt I thought more of Breaking Bad than No Country for Old Men.

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