Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

(hb; 2005)

From the inside flap:

"Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?"


McCarthy's trademark apostrophe- and quotation mark-free prose makes this hyperviolent tale even more compelling, as Anton Chigurh, an escaped sociopathic killer, and Sheriff Bell, a laid-back no-nonsense cop, separately pursue Llewelyn Moss, who means to confront Chigurh on his terms, not Chigurh's.

But Chigurh and Bell aren't the only people interested in Moss. There's Carson Wells, a middle-aged ex-military hitter and ex-associate of Chigurh's, who's been hired by his unnamed employer to retrieve, by any means possible, the $2.4 million that Moss loped off with.

This bloodier-than-a-catamenial-clusterf**k work is often exceptional, with some great third-act plot twists and virtuosic omissions (leaving much to the reader's imagination), and characters (women included) who come off tougher and larger than life.

One of the things that mars this otherwise engrossing tale are the superfluous chapters where Bell reminisces about how times and people (particularly criminals) have changed since he first became a lawman, many years back. These first-person interludes feel completely out of place here: they're unnecessary speed-bumps in this pedal-to-the-metal read.

The other flaw is the disappointing finish, which peters out in semi-rambly fashion. It fits the themes running though No Country (Regret, Death, Change, Aging), but like those shoe-horned first-person ruminations, it doesn't fit in with the quirky ferocity of the rest of the novel.

Good book, worth your time -- not one of McCarthy's best, by most accounts I've read.


The resulting film is set for limited theatrical release on November 9, 2007. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen scripted and directed the film. Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell. Javier Bardem plays Chigurh. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss. Woody Harrelson plays Carson Wells. Kelly Macdonald plays Carla Jean Moss. Tess Harper plays Loretta Bell.

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