For what it’s worth, I consider Cormac McCarthy to be the world’s greatest living author. I do not say that lightly. I truly mean it. I am not a fan of all of his works, but I am of most. All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road stand out as exemplary reasons why I would say such a thing. McCarthy deals consistently with the big issues (life, death, meaning, love, morality, and God), and he does so in a way that evidences a keen mind and, I have long suspected, a Christian mind. His writing is frequently too beautiful for words, and there are times when it soars. When McCarthy is good, he is better than anybody. He is not Faulkner, but he is in that kind of company.
This is what made reading The Counselor so very difficult. It is a screenplay, but screenplays can still be vehicles of great writing. Instead, what I see in The Counselor is a work as off-putting as his novel, Child of God, without the great writing of the latter.
In short, The Counselor struck this reader as a tawdry, unnecessarily explicit, shabby replica of No Country for Old Men. Honestly, the two stories are very similar: a man gets caught up in a drug deal believing he can control it and believing that the money is worth the risk, without understanding the inky blackness and amorality of the souls of those who live in the nihilistic underbelly of the world, leading to the inevitable demise of the person and all that they hold dear. The basic points of the stories are the same: there is a viciousness in the world that takes one’s breath away, and it can challenge the sanity and break the hearts of those who want to live in this fallen world with anything like a semblance of meaning, virtue, beauty, and transcendence. It is an important lesson, and one McCarthy is especially adept at telling. Regrettably, the moral gets lost in the nearly pornographic language and the overstressed explicitness, profanity, and gutter talk.
Look. McCarthy isn’t writing for LifeWay. I get that and I’m thankful for it. He is not for the prudish, to be sure. However, this was just too much, and I do not flinch from saying that sometimes it’s possible for a great writer to get so close to the darkness he is writing about that that darkness manifests itself even in the writing. Moreso, the writing was bad and shallow. I known, I know: it’s a screenplay. I get the limitations that come with the medium. Regardless, it feels like he was trying to write a screenplay, if that makes sense. One hopes this will be the end of this kind of experiment for McCarthy.
The Counselor is a disappointing read.
It is regrettable…especially for the world’s greatest living writer.