Friday, August 19, 2005

Cormac McCarthy is scary...and pissed

Actually I love Cormac McCarthy. I visited the CM Forum and saw a post from a new reader who had just finished the Border Trilogy and wanted to read more of him--something more "uplifting." Little does she know those were the uplifting ones! Yikes. She doesn't need to go anywhere near Blood Meridian. Which brings me to No Country for Old Men, which I just finished. The body count is high, though it still can't compare to BM for that. It's set in the early 80s by my counting, on the border between Texas and Mexico, ground zero for the violence and mayhem of cross-border drug running. Llewelyn Moss is out antelope hunting and stumbles across a scene of a drug deal gone very, very bad--everyone dead and dying. He skips the heroin payload but takes the bag full of money and, as McCarthy would put it, skedaddles. He doesn't skedaddle very well and is soon the prey of the law, an ex-Special Forces assassin, and someone else, very like the Devil himself, named Anton Chigurgh (a character in the novel mistakes the name for "sugar," which must be a McCarthy joke; it makes me think of "chiggers"--the little buggers that burrow into your skin and make you itch like mad).

It moves along at a great clip--reviewers seem convinced that it is an action film in the making, and I can kind of see it as a Tarantino movie, if you excise the very thing that McCarthy is most intent on presenting. He intersplices all the bloodletting with the voice of the aging county sheriff, not so much involved in the action, as the sad, helpless witness who tells his story in counterpoint to the brutal action surrounding him. He looks backward to the past, and doesn't see the romantic pioneering of his grandparents and their parents, but the beginnning of the end, which he seems fairly sure is just around the next bend. With McCarthy, there is no romantic Western myth outside of the rough, beautiful landscape itself, which is always the subject of his most beautiful prose. For all things human, his perspective is apocalyptic. The forces of good and the forces of evil are always in battle and the side of good is not exactly winning. In this novel, which I probably need to re-read and think over some more, there is little or no redemption--not for the characters, not for the country, and perhaps nowhere in the world. Not too uplifting, eh?

As for Chigurgh, he is truly chilling. He operates more like a killing machine (and in fact his weapon of choice IS a machine), following his own murderous logic. He seems a little otherworldly, a kind of Destroyer Angel (what's with me and all the Angels of Death??)--a really pitiless Fate, who twice in the novel allows his victims to call a coin toss to see whether they live or die. It's that bit of indifference in him that makes him frightening. He isn't just a psychopath who can't keep himself from killing--he just does. Another image that comes to me is the Basilisk--I haven't seen anyone else mention it, but it seems like a linkage that CM would have in mind, being that he so often dwells in the realms of the allegorical and the mystical.

There is a political undercurrent to the novel. The Sheriff's ruminations touch on just about every Red State/Blue State debate there is: drug crime, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, the Vietnam War, the fortunes of corporations and what those fortunes are buying (us?). The really radical idea here is that the downward spiral is not the fault of any party, or a single event like Vietnam. Following McCarthy's logic, thinking of what he's written before, the root of the evil goes at least as far back as the first forays of Europeans on this continent. Not an "unclaimed" continent, but one already claimed and peopled, and therefore setting in motion a long, violent war which is not over. Manifest Destiny means subjugating humans and the environment, and in the wake of that march of destiny is all the bloodshed and destruction that make up the body of McCarthy's work.

No comments: