Author: Cormac McCarthy
While hunting in the West Texas wilderness, Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the bloody scene of a drug deal gone bad. Invoking the "Finders Keepers" clause, he claims $2 million in cash (but leaves the heroin). He gets more than he expects when the Mexican drug cartel sends Anton Chigurh - a psychopath who is not quite as dangerous as the Bubonic Plague - to reclaim the money and "product."
Since reading McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning The Road, I've been working my way through the McCarthy library. My goal was to finish No Country for Old Men before the motion picture release later this month.
It turns out that wasn't a problem. Like The Road, No Country is a very quick read at just over 300 pages. But while the book showcases McCarthy's gift for language, it wasn't as emotionally satisfying as The Road. I wasn't left with the sense of stunned awe after turning the last page as I was with The Road.
That said, No Country for Old Men is still and amazing work. It examines the old proverb that "No good deed ever goes unpunished." When the central character Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the drug deal gone bad and the accompanying $2 million in untraceable cash (well, nearly untraceable), all he has to do is let a man die alone and walk away rich.
His better angels take over though, and he returns to the scene to give the dying man a drink of water. For this, he is rewarded with being chased through the desert by drug traffickers who have come to collect the money.
This sets up the major plot line for the novel, and McCarthy describes the chase with all the physical and psychological detail to which I've come accustomed through reading his other works (though stylistically McCarthy is in his Hemingway mode rather than his Faulkner mode). Anton Chigurh follows Moss and the money, leaving a trail of blown out door locks and blown out brains across the plains of west Texas, while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell tracks the carnage trying to figure out what kind of person could do such evil but questioning whether he really wants to catch up with the assassin.
I give McCarthy credit for not pulling punches in the story (although by now I know McCarthy pulls no punches when it comes to death and violent imagery). In the end, Chigurh catches up with Moss, kills him, takes the money and gets away. We are then treated to a chilling scene where Chigurh, for no reason other than his demented psychosis, kills Moss's widow because he told Moss he would.
No, it's not a happy ending (Oh, by the way, SPOILER ALERT!!! Heh, little late with that, sorry).
In the denouement, Sheriff Bell retires when he is unable to prevent the bloodbath or bring Chigurh to justice (or even identify who Chigurh is). He retires because it really has become no country for old men. Bell (and McCarthy?) suspects the moral decline and growing violence of the world around him is irreversible.
"It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight."My biggest problem with the book is that there are a couple of pretty big plot holes. One is, why did Moss, after taking the money, decide to risk discovery by returning to the scene? I suppose it was because he felt conflicted about leaving someone to die thirsty and alone, but this humanitarian action doesn't seem consistent with his later actions. I can live with this since it sets up the conflict and action for the rest of the story.
My bigger gripe is with the Moss's death scene, or rather the lack of one. We are brought to the scene after the fact with the character of Sheriff Bell. I just think that after investing so much to develop Moss's character, he deserved a better, more detailed death sequence.
Still this is a profound and disturbing book, well written and very approachable. I hope the Coen brothers have done it justice (and from what I've read, they have).
tagged: books, literature, Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men, Coen brothers