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.
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.