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No Country for Old Men (Vintage International) Paperback – October 9, 2007
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“Profoundly disturbing and gorgeously rendered.”
—The Washington Post
“Feels like a genuine diagnosis of the postmillennial malady, a scary illumination of the oncoming darkness.”
“He is nothing less than our greatest living writer, and this is a novel that must be read and remembered.”
“Riveting. . . . A harrowing, propulsive drama.”
—The New York Times
“This is a monster of a book. . . . It will leave you panting and awestruck.”
About the Author
Cormac McCarthy is one of America’s most honored writers. He has won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent novel, The Road, received the Pulitzer Prize.
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This was my first Cormac McCarthy book, suggested by a friend who well knows my penchant for Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Commas are a rare breed, and quotation marks were extinct long before this book was written. Even so, the author’s style is fairly easy to understand, and the story drives this book anyhow. The down-home conversations reveal a lot about the characters, and the interludes with Sheriff Bell (where it seems as if he is speaking directly to us) tell us everything we want to know about the man, and more.
Mr. McCarthy balances multiple characters, allowing each to share the main stage and have their moment to shine as the book races to an unexpected climax. The plot examines motivations, particularly why different people make different decisions and the underlying currents that cause or force them to continue, right or wrong, to embrace whatever path was chosen. These moments are very revealing, and it is interesting to view each character’s interpretation of what is ethical behavior. This is not a speed read. The author’s style arm-twists us into slowing down, and for that I am grateful. Five stars.
About McCarthy as a writer: No one writing today can say so much or describe so much on one page as McCarthy - and in words of few syllables. Nor can anyone writing today bring the reader into the picture as well as McCarthy nor sketch a character as well nor write conversation so well that you can almost hear the Texas twang, the rural patois of a good old boy Texas lawman. Read a page of McCarthy describing Llewellyn Moss's first view of the scene of four burned shot-up trucks surrounded by three dead bodies and one wounded man in the Texas desert and you are right there. Listen to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell talk to his uncle Ellis and you are in the room with them. I just wish he would be clearer. Was this a requiem for the good old days in West Texas? Was it a tribute to the men of that time? Was it a study of evil? (Frankly I have the same questions in respect to his fascination with evil in the only other McCarthy books I have read - The Road and Blood Horizon ) Was sit a Jeremiad against the hippie generation? The narcotics trade? Or was it just a good story interspersed with a lot of philosophy, giving Melville a run for his money? I guess it was all of these things. But I wish now that, having put the book down, I really knew what he was trying to tell me.
The obvious story is fairly clear; Moss finds the trucks and the men in the Texas desert just this side of the border. Everyone is dead except the wounded man asking for water. (Moss has none.) One of the trucks is loaded with bricks of cocaine. There is a man lying dead by a briefcase under a tree. The briefcase holds 2.3 million in hundred dollar bills. Moss takes it. He returns that night with water, but the man has been shot and the cocaine is gone. He realizes too late that he may not be alone, all terrain four wheelers with lights are in the vicinity and he is spotted. He runs. And a lot of the rest of the narrative is the chase. Obviously two sides have been cheated - one of the drugs, one of the money - and both are out to find Moss and the money. The principle agent of the chase is a psychopathic killer with almost supernatural powers - Anton Chigurth who, armed with a compressed air bottle connected to a cattle stun gun and a sawed off shotgun, manages in two hundred blood stained pages to kill Moss, his wife, his mother in law, a deputy, an innocent citizen, two or three hotel clerks, the business man behind the drug dealing - all in separate killings - and then three Mexicans in a gun fight all together; and if you can tell me after reading this book how Chigurth managed to find all these people (even though a transponder was hidden in the cash and accounts for his presence in at lest one of he killings) I'll buy you a good dinner at a place of your choice. McCarthy, being the man he thinks he is, doesn't have to explain. Chigurth just appears And there is no denouement, no satisfaction, no justice, no catharsis Though injured Chigurth just walks away out of the pages. Evil, points out McCarthy, is still out there - and always will be.
That's the narrative; but it's not the story. The story is that West Texas has changed so much since the end of World War II to 1980 (the period in which the narrative is set) that it is no longer a country for old men; and that is lamentable. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a man who is sure to steal your heart, tells the story in his own words, about how things are now, how things were then, what men should be like, about his opinions on life in first person italicized ruminations which begin and end the book and which are often interspersed into the narrative. They are the guts of what McCarthy has to say about life; and they are worth reading. The rest of the stuff is just well written bloody crime stuff. You'll love Ed Tom and adore his wife Lorraine who, though unready, cheerfully goes into retirement with Ed Tom who, after thirty-five years of being a sheriff. finds it is no country for old men.
JBP - December 2007