This is a review of the book (not the film) of No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. The second novel I’ve read by him (after The Road) and I’m becoming a big fan. His writing style is individual; he uses no punctuation and he is quite succinct in the way he describes things, but he demonstrates a lot of depth and thought behind what he writes.
No Country for Old Men is a story of a chase. Llewelyn Moss is a fairly average, mostly law-abiding nice guy who is committed to his wife. One afternoon when out in the Texas desert doing some shooting practice, he stumbles upon a scene. It is obviously a drug deal gone wrong. The drugs are still on the back of one of the pickup trucks, the cars are full of bullet holes and there are lots of dead people. Everyone is dead except for one guy, a Mexican stuck in his pickup truck. he is clearly dying and asks Moss for water. Moss ignores him but thinks that there must have been one last man standing, and he must have the money. He searches around and follows some tracks until he finds a man dead about a mile away with a case full of money – lots of it. This man had obviously been injured when he tried to escape and didn’t get too far. Moss takes the case and hides it at his home.
In the middle of the night he has a pang of conscience. Is the Mexican still alive? He gets up and goes back to give him some water. Big mistake. The organisers of the deal are scouting around, and whilst Moss is checking out the scene again, they see his pickup. The man behind it is a guy called Anton Chigurh. He is the embodiment of evil – practically emotionless, a ruthless assassin who lives by fate, keeps his word and meets out punishment. No-one he has ever disagreed with has lived to tell the tale. The rest of the book is a chase as Chigurh tracks Moss through various Texan towns and motels and even into Mexico.
But the book isn’t primarily about them. It is about Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who is just short of retirement. He is assigned to follow the trail of bodies behind Chigurh in the hope of stopping him and saving Moss. Before each chapter McCarthy writes a reminiscence of Bell’s, letting us into his thoughts. He has been a sheriff a long time and never before has he seen anything like this. The book is essentially about the decline of morality and values in the world. As soon as people stop saying Sir, Please, and Thank you, Bell claims, the rest follows. It has left the world in this state where evil (personified in Chigurh) is allowed to run rampant.
At the end of the book Bell reminisces again. He ponders the Sheriff’s house, a 200 year old house build of stone. He looks at a gully carved into the stone to direct rain water away from the house. In a world that had not yet seen peace (1780s) , what was it, he ponders, that made that stone carver chisel away with such care to build something that would last 200 years. He concludes, it must be the hope of a promise. Bell laments that this faith has never come easy to him. In the final scene Bell recounts a dream of his father riding past him on a horse holding a precious fire and promising to wait for him until he arrives (carrying the fire is a theme which also appears in The Road). This is a glimpse into a faith filled (better) world that I have also seen in another of McCarthy’s books, one where the decline of values in society is righted, one that gives hope.
Another great novel from Cormac McCarthy.