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Monday, April 21, 2008

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Someone once told me that Cormac McCarthy was impossible to read. The reason, as I remember, had something to do with trying to be too intellectual and as a result his stories were impossible to follow. I stayed away from Cormac McCarthy thanks to that advice.

I did not find No Country For Old Men in any way impossible to read, nor did I find it written on a higher intellectual plane that I was incapable of following. Instead I found McCarthy to be typical of other writers of westerns I've read. The male characters can barely string together 3 grammatically correct sentences, yet they unceasingly concern themselves with inner thoughts and philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. Their wisdom on any subject knows no bounds. However, the only thing that separates most of them from some nasty, dust-covered road to perdition is the love of a good woman. And if that good woman is a Sheriff's wife, she's also an excellent cook who serves delicious and nutritious meals to whomever happens to be residing in the jail's cell at the moment.

No Country For Old Men is the story of what happens when Llewelyn Moss discovers a bag full of money left behind in a drug deal gone bad. Anton Chigurh tracks Moss to get the money back. Sheriff Bell is connected to these two men when a whole bunch of people show up dead in his jurisdiction.

The story is tightly constructed and well told. No one is big on grammar; instead the men are walking catalogs of gun information, and they all seem to know a thing or two about what's supposed to be under the hood of a car including how to fix it. Conversations are spare and to the point. If Sheriff Bell's involved, there's apt to be at least one gem of wisdom dropped on the subject. The story is a classic tale of good vs evil with evil pretty much running the show for most of the book. That's not a bad thing; it keeps the action moving and the characters on their toes or backsides -- whichever is appropriate at the time.

I did have a problem at the very end of the book, and it's a huge problem. That's because the ending seems to make no sense based upon all the information the reader has been given for 300 pages of plot. I'm told that the movie has the exact same problem. When I first discovered this snafu, I reread parts of the book again in an effort to find what I must have missed. I didn't miss anything. The ending really is that screwed up. For that reason, I felt cheated for having spent my time reading all that philosophical crap and wading through some of those inner dialogues. For that reason I gave the book 3 stars instead of the 4 I was planning on giving it.

I would recommend this book to people who like westerns with characters that get right to the basics of life and don't mess around with anything too fancy. Oh yeah, and the recommendation would also state that the reader cannot be too fussy about sensible endings.


Bryan said...

No Country for Old Men is by far McCarthy's most "user friendly" book so far. The "impossible to read" comments could be attributed to some of his earlier work that uses little punctuation, archaic words, and large portions of Spanish intermingled.

kathleenmaher said...

I didn't read that one by McCarthy. But recently, I recalled my response to "All the Pretty Horses," albeit when I was still half-way through it.
I told a woman, while we watched our kids struggle through a YMCA swimming lesson, "That for a western where the man who's writing it evokes strong emotion by describing, with great intricacy, weather fronts, it was excellent."
For all that, I haven't read another McCarthy novel. My husband and now much older son recommend "Blood Meridian."

Ma T said...

I have "All The Pretty Horses", as yet still unread. I'll give it a try at some point, but I don't hold out lots of hope for it because frankly, while I enjoy an author who can evoke strong sentiment, I'm not sure I care where it's applied to whether fronts. LOL! Thanks so much for your comment. I'll check out Blood Meridian.