National Book Award winner Cormac McCarthy has written a
"thrillentary" --- or maybe an "op-western." NO COUNTRY FOR OLD
MEN, his first novel in seven years, is part blood and guts, and
part social commentary.
The book is set up like a typical contemporary western. Sheriff Ed
Tom Bell has a problem in his county: there's a bloody feud in
progress over some misappropriated drug money. The body count is
rising and the sheriff wants it stopped. From this premise,
McCarthy sets about systematically destroying the form's tropes.
The sheriff is ineffectual and shares his despair at the state of
society with the reader in a series of italicized musings
interspersed among the book's chapters.
None of the various villains (regardless of their level of
villainy) is redeemed by the law or by love, and McCarthy crushes
each hopeful moment with startling violence and despair. A few
women --- most notably the sheriff's wife --- are wholly
sympathetic or noble, but they are relegated to supporting cast
McCarthy excels at building suspense as a ruthless killer named
Chigurh pursues Moss, a man who happens upon a fortune in the
desert and makes the mistake of taking it home. The hunt speeds
along as it would in a traditional thriller, though with vastly
different results from what a loyal thriller reader might
The action is only slowed when the characters feel the need to
reveal their personal philosophies prior to killing one another.
These melodramatic passages are largely unsuccessful. In contrast,
Bell's stand-alone monologues gather emotion and are perhaps
McCarthy's best work in the book, regardless of what one thinks of
the sheriff's conservative worldview.
In an odd stylistic move, McCarthy has done away with most
apostrophes and all quotation marks, a decision that almost seems
to shout "Society is so shot to hell, we can't even punctuate!"
It's an unnecessary distraction in this bleak picture of American
Reviewed by Rob Cline (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 13, 2011
No Country for Old Men