Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Country For Old Men — Cormac McCarthy

It's interesting when a piece of artwork comes along that really makes you examine and understand the vast difference between liking something and thinking something is great. No Country For Old Men is just such a work of art.

Cormac McCarthy is unlike any other writer I've read, simply because he doesn't follow any basic rules of literary writing: He doesn't use punctuation (only occassionally, and as far as I can tell, there is no particular rule about its use), he writes about events as though he were reporting them and he writes dialogue as if it were a play. All of these aspects made me LOVE his writing. Despite the unorthodoxy of it, it flowed brilliantly. The pacing was steady as well as jolting, and McCarthy's dialogue, strewn with subtle wit, is some of the best, most realistic I have ever read in my life.

The story centers on three very different men — Ed Tom Bell, Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh — and the part they play in the aftermath of a drug deal gone terribly wrong. Moss takes off with over $2 million in cash after stumbling across this crime scene, leaving his wife, Carla Jean, behind. Bell is the sheriff of the county, hoping to solve the case, and track down an unknown 'serial killer' — Chigurh, the ruthless assassin hot on Moss' path.

Chigurh is the most fascinating character for me. He is like a robot, hard and the epitome of evil. But he has principles. He lives by a set of rules and — though wrong, in most respects — he never deviates from those rules. Moss, on the other hand, is the opposite: a good man who, mistake after mistake, proves to have no principles at all.

This is where my thoughts on the book get complicated. Reading No Country was quite an experience — one I enjoyed immensely. It's rare that a book can be captivating, and the author does nothing to elicit much suspense; the way McCarthy writes, what is just is. No gloss. No hoopla. No pizazz. Just facts about events — brutal, gory, frightening and unapologetic. Sentimentality does not come within one hundred miles of this story. If it can be argued to be anywhere, it is with the "What has this country become?"-romantic mentality of part-time narrator, Sheriff Bell. It is through him that some great thoughts arise.

No Country is a book, were I to teach an English or creative writing class, I would no doubt have in the curriculum. It approaches drama and story-telling a completely different way, and encompasses themes on morality and human psychology that a 10-page analysis paper could only begin to explore.

However, as far as my personal taste goes, I did not like this story (the book, I liked), for no other reason than that I didn't care much about the characters, nor was I given a chance to build up any hope for them. It was somewhat Brechtian, in that I felt detached from them, but was still interested in them. That, by no means, is a bad thing. I'm certain it was McCarthy's intention. Thinking about the book is interesting, simply because I will never deny how amazing it really is — unique and riveting.

TASTE will play a big part in how the book resonates. To some, it will be everything they look for in a book. To others, it will be nothing more than a book of good writing. I recommend everyone reads it and figures it out for themselves.


[side note: The Coen Brothers' adaptation of this book, which I saw yesterday, was exactly the book. If someone had somehow fed the book through a funnel that immediately transcribed it to screen, you would basically have gotten that movie. Is that bad? Not necessarily. To some, it is fantastic! To others, it points to a lack of creativity.

The film was not so much an adaptation of the book as it was a transcription of the book. Therefore, my thoughts about it are the same: perfectly done, but lacking in heart.

While I enjoyed watching the movie, I get offended for the Coens when people say it's their best work to date. Everything in the movie, save for some characterization choices (Chigurh) and such, was Cormac McCarthy's creation — particularly the dialogue, funny lines and all. There was very little "Coen-ness" about it.]


  1. I really would like to read the book. I, too, recently saw the Coen Brothers film, and actually really liked it. Just by the previews alone I thought it wouldn't be a typical Coen Bro movie, but after seeing it, I came out saying, "Wow, so Coen-esque." With that said, I think your take on it is interesting. Do you think Coen Brothers were chosen/ chose to direct it for a reason? Maybe lack of heart was what they were going for, with a twist of absurdity and the psychotic. :)

    I will see you tomorrow probably. I am still stuffed from turkey....AND whiskey from the pub crawl. Oh dear...

  2. when you have a book review column, yours will be the only one i'll read.

  3. I noticed you added a little to your comments about the Coens. While I understand, since you read the book not me, that it is less Coen-esque than previous movies, all I meant by my question was: because of McCarthy's story and dialogue do you think the Coens were chosen for a reason? Because their typical style would mesh so well with McCarthy's story.

  4. hey jess -- you probably won't read this, but i can't comment anywhere else...

    yeah, i revised what i originally wrote because after you asked your question, i realized a few more things i wanted to say. it wasn't an attempt to answer your question, necessarily (i would just answer it in person), nor was it to rebuke what you said.

    yeah, i think the coens were chosen for a reason, but i dunno for sure if they were chosen. they may have decided to do it on their own.

    i only feel weird about hearing people talk about all the elements of the movie that make it "so coen brothers" (you aren't the only one to say this, and it isn't wrong)... it's just that every time someone says something "that line was SO coen brothers" i'm like, "uhh... that line was written in the book."

    i just end up feeling bad for both the CB and mccarthy. =/ i don't think either are getting the proper credit. (i've been reading a LOT of articles and reviews, since it's oscar season -- people are raving about the movie.)

    anyway. that was long. you probably won't read this.

  5. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!