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No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men

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 status.

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 expect.

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 society.

Reviewed by Rob Cline([email protected]) on January 13, 2011

No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy

  • Publication Date: July 19, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0375406778
  • ISBN-13: 9780375406775