No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
(New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2005)

He hung up the phone and dialed the mobile number that Wells had given him. It answered on the second ring but it wasn’t Wells. I think I got the wrong number, he said.
You don’t have the wrong number. You need to come see me.
Who is this?
You know who it is.
Moss leaned on the counter, his forehead against his fist.
Where’s Wells?
You know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?
No. Do you?
Yes. I do. I think you do too. You just haven’t accepted it yet. So this is what I’ll do. You bring me the money and I’ll let her walk. Otherwise she’s accountable. The same as you. I don’t know if you care about that. But that’s the best deal you’re going to get. I won’t tell you you can save yourself because you can’t.

No Country for Old Men is McCarthy’s most deterministic novel. The antagonist Anton Chigurh sees himself as an agent of fate, deciding his victims’ destinies with a coin toss. The telephone is one of Chigurh’s key devices to bring these victims into his orbit. Early in the novel, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell answers a telephone call that brings him to the site of Chigurh’s first murder and into his ultimately doomed pursuit of the mysterious hitman, an event that Bell himself refers to as ‘just dumb luck’. But the above exchange, which takes place between protagonist Llewellyn Moss and Chigurh, is the most significant. In this call, Moss turns down Chigurh’s final offer of a way out for his wife Carla Jean. Just as Chigurh says in this call, he does retrieve the money from Moss and, even though Moss is dead, Chigurh still travels to Carla Jean’s home, where he kills her after leaving her fate to another coin toss. Moss’ phone call thus becomes both Mosses’ rubicon, after which there is no way back for either, just as Bell’s answering of his own fateful phone call leads to his despair and retirement.

by Daniel King