Day 122-- No Country for Old Men

As much as 2006's the Road was a departure for Cormac McCarthy (post-apocalyptic future?), No Country for Old Men was as much as a departure from the authors oeuvre when it was released in '05. It's a lean, taut novel (compared to the near-Melvillian descriptive techniques McCarthy is known for), and it's set in 1980 (about 70 years later than any other McCarthy book). And as after seven years of silence, No Country for Old Men was sort of a surprise to readers and critics.

No Country for Old Men centers around three main characters and the nightmare they've been caught in: Llewellyn Moss, an average joe who--while hunting antelope in the Texas-Mexico desert--comes across a drug deal gone back and takes a case filled with 2.4 million dollars; Anton Chigurh, a sociopath hired to get the money back; and Ed Tom Bell, an aging sheriff who investigates the string of killings that follow Chigurh from county to county. The book is mainly told in third person, but the narrative is broken up by first person ruminations of Bell.

As I mentioned earlier, the book is sparse, a stark contrast to McCarthy's usually lush and nuaced descriptive ability. The majority of the book follows Moss and Chigurh as they duck and dodge each other, while the latter focuses on the aftermath of the event and a lot of Bell's thoughts on what had happened. McCarthy keeps it simple and dialogue heavy. Many critics didn't like this change, considering it a change for the worst.

It's a very violent book (Chigurh alone kills well over 15 people, from his own associates to motel employees that get in the way--and one of his favorite weapons is a modified slaughterhouse bolt stunner), but one of McCarthy's gifts (or faults, depending on who you ask) is that it's never graphic. He rarely goes out of his way to dwell on the gore, just lays it out there as basic as possible, moves on and lets the reader interpret it. McCarthy also deals heavily with the standard "deep" things he puts into his books (sin, nihilism, existentialism, semotics; the gnostic elements aren't on tap this time around, though), but one of the most captivating aspects is Bell's realization that there is no way he (the embodiment of the WWII generation ethic) can face Chigurh (the 'new breed'). After reading the book and staring into the abyss of Chigurh's warped, perverse sense of justice, the fact that he doesn't find Bell significant enough to kill says something.

Bell's monologues wander into interesting territory, including the importance his marriage holds in his life and how future generations might just spiral into nothingness. McCarthy doesn't use Bell as some moral compass--he's not that sort of author--but a sad, understated consideration and gentleness of Bell are a sharp contrast to all of the meaningless violence that Chigurh and his ilk dish out without pause. One of the most touching--and easily overlooked--qualities of the book are the few kind things Moss does as he flees with the money. He's a fool in most ways, but a brief acts of kindness really made me care about his character and realize that he's more like Bell than Chigurh.

In that sense, I really liked the book, but I hesitate to openly recommend it to everyone since I know not everyone is going to be able to wade through the blood to find the same nuggets of truth that I did. Or, you can just wait for the Coen brothers' film adaptation this year.

Some links to reviews of the book.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 1/05/2007 06:19:00 PM,


At 9:15 PM, Blogger Qere Ketiv said...

Awesome, truly awesome. I want to read/listen to every thing you review. Kudos.


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