After being completely blown away by The Road, I decided that I should add another Cormac McCarthy title to my reading list. So several weeks ago, while perusing row upon row of books at Borders, I picked out a copy of No Country For Old Men. This should be good, I thought. And it was.
I deeply admire McCarthy’s writing style. He has a way with words that is nothing short of breathtaking. In The Road, he relied heavily on description, and successfully created the most realistic post-apocalyptic atmosphere I’ve ever encountered in a novel. But his approach in No Country For Old Men is quite different. In this case, his writing has the ferocious, unrelenting force of an incredibly intense screenplay. As one critic noted, the book cuts “from one frightening, violent set piece to another with cinematic economy and precision”.
When a good old boy named Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a bloody crime scene with $2 million and a load of heroin, in the middle of a Texas desert, he takes the cash. He’s forced to flee his home, however, when Anton Chigurh – a cold-blooded, methodical killer – comes looking for it, with sheriff Ed Tom Bell hot on his trail. As Moss tries to evade Chigurh, he ends up unleashing a violent chain of events that not even the law can contain.
Essentially, No Country For Old Men is about a good guy, a bad guy, and a guy who’s in between…
Forty-five-year-old lawman Ed Tom Bell is a thoughtful, sympathetic character, and it’s mainly his personal reflections that make the book so powerful. He’s the sheriff of a small Texas town, and he struggles to deal with the amorality . Violence and depravity have so affected everything that he believes “we’re looking at something we really ain’t even seen before.”
The villain, Chigurh, is evil – frighteningly evil. There’s really no other way to describe him. He kills, and he does it efficiently and remorselessly. A trail of bodies follows him wherever he goes. And that’s his way of life.
Then there’s Lewellyn Moss – he’s the guy in-between. Initially, he thinks he can take money that doesn’t belong to him, and get away with it. But he’s woefully mistaken, and when he realizes it, he embarks on a desperate attempt to escape the consequences.
On the one hand, No Country For Old Men is a riveting thriller that hurtles forward at a burning pace. But it’s also a morality play, dishing out a brutal, thought-provoking picture of life without Christ, the effects of greed and violence, and showing how one seemingly insignificant sin can lead to unimaginable consequences. “… be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23) The story also leads one to consider the futileness of human effort alone in the battle against sin. Man’s strength is not sufficient, and will ultimately fail, no matter how smart, fast, or cunning you think you are. Only in Christ can one ultimately prevail against evil. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Some people have labeled this book as hopeless and unredeeming. I disagree. And here’s why:
The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt… I’m sure they’s people would disagree with that. Quite a few, in fact. But I never could find out what any of them did believe.
If that’s not hopeful and redeeming, we must not be reading the same thing.
There is one thing I take issue with, and that is McCarthy’s representation of God. The God of this book is hardly the God of holy Scripture. Instead of a loving, all-wise, all-powerful God actively involved in the affairs of men, we see an impotent deity. Consider this conversation:
Do you expect God knows what’s happenin?
I expect he does.
You think he can stop it?
No I don’t.
Bearing this point in mind, I do think the book deserves to be read. It will stick with you, and give you plenty to chew on long after you’ve turned the final page. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that it certainly isn’t for readers younger than 16. No Country is a disturbing book, with quite a bit of graphic, bloody violence and a fair amount of language.
Not light reading, by any means. But worthwhile reading, nonetheless.