Over this past summer, at some point, I read my first Cormac McCarthy novel, Blood Meridian, which is a wild sort of Western novel starring a Kid and a Judge and their harrowing deeds. I didn’t review the book here largely because I didn’t know what to make of it. At times, the book seemed meandering and lost, which some critics seem to dismiss as a non-problem, but I, however, like a tight, aggressive narrative, which Blood Meridian, at times, failed to provide. However, the book did possess some spectacular prose and one of the most interesting characters I had ever read. When the book was good, it was fantastic.
I assumed I’d re-read Blood Meridianat some point to try to grasp it better, but I didn’t give Cormac McCarthy much thought otherwise, until I saw the trailer for the Coen brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, which is, in fact, based off a McCarthy novel by the same name. The trailer is fantastic, and this coupled with the high points of Blood Meridian led to an Amazon package on my front doorstep two days later.
No Country for Old Menis the story of Llewelyn Moss, a sniper in the Vietnam War, who comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone sour in the Texas border area. While investigating the scene–two trucks, a few dead bodies–Moss finds a sack full of money. Over two million dollars. Soon enough, a cold and vicious man named Anton Chigurh is chasing him, with intentions to reclaim the money and kill Moss. In the wake of their destruction is Sherriff Bell, an aged, small-town lawman, who is always two steps behind Moss and Chigurh, but provides a moral relief for the story.
Unlike Blood Meridian and, from what I understand, most of McCarthy’s other works, the language of No Country for Old Men is of a simple, stripped down nature. Few words are spent on scenery. Nearly every word furthers the plot, every paragraph a step in the book’s relentless action. Deep breaths are only occasionally taken with Bell’s occasional diary-like entries, talking about life, and love, and the law.
For a book with so much action, the climax is strangely indirect, off-stage, as it occurs, and is then re-told from one minor character to Bell, after the events. To repeat, the action has occurred, and we roughly understand the nature of the climax, but we only get its details after we know its results.
It would seem that the novels main protagonists are Bell and Chigurh, although Llewelyn Moss seems like the obvious main character at first glance. But Moss is surprisingly static, by the end, whereas Chigurh and Bell seem to find extra depth. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. From page 1 through just before the climax, the book reads as a thriller, and a good one. From the so-called climax onward, the book is not thrilling, but instead contemplative and reflective. Such a tonal shift is hard to grasp, even as both tones ring strong and loud.
No Country for Old Men
Paperback: 320 pages