J's Reviews > No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
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's review
Oct 19, 2009

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bookshelves: religiosity, violence, human-nature
Read in October, 2009

What a morose book!

The story progresses quite quickly. I understand why some people like this author's writing style. His sentences are simple and his thought processes are logical.

However, I have a tough time with Moss's character. Despite his survivalist acumen with how to protect himself, he makes some incredibly stupid mistakes.

Chigur, the villain is ruthless, he shows up, always finds his mark. Does his dirty work, gets away and disappears.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is a totally believable and entertaining and sympathetic character. He reminds me of some of the old salts I used to work with. While I am not convinced his character is representative of most old law enforcement personalities, he is the story.

This book just seems to wallow in fear. Perhaps the real appeal of this book and why its movie counterpart garnered an an Academy Award for Best Picture is that it reflects Americas prevailing psyche; there is no hope for America and that her best days are past.

The rationale goes as follows;

1] good people do bad things and when they do, bad things happen to them.

2] Some bad people do bad things and they too fall victim to their questionable behavior. and finally,

3]some bad people do bad things and they get away with it anyway.

I think the moral of the story for this book has to do with remaining true to whatever you believe. Moreover, if you make a choice in life - whether good or bad - or better yet, moral or amoral - then you better be willing to stick with it to the very end. Otherwise, the end result is tainted. In other words; "Be the best that you can be regardless of what that may be; welcome to Situational Ethics 101.

I suspect that where this story retains its greatest appeal is in its protagonist, Sheriff Bell's elegy for the death of an 'America' - a clarion call for the Rockwellian world that really never existed.

Despite Ed Tom Bell's assessment that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I did however find it ironic that he found himself being consoled by his octogenarian uncle Ellis who concluded that change is the only thing that can be counted upon. Now that's an old salt.

In the end, I believe Ellis had it right; problems will always persist. The only difference between young men and old men is that somehow the problems of the past seem to be eclipsed in their level of severity because for the young, there is a novelty to the new experience. Consequently, the adaptive process is retains more resiliency for the young. Getting older seems to be clouded over by experiential frames of reference leaving the older to reflect upon change with a sense of nostalgia and foreboding.

This is my first Cormac McCarthy book.

I still have a few more of his books - The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses & The Road - on my 'to read' list. Let's see how they go.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Edwards Hi Joe,

Solely my opinion and please take it with a grain of salt, but I have never viewed Chigurh as an actual person. I believe he may be Death itself, and the coin flipping, among other images, is merely the universal truth that death eventually comes for everyone, whether good or bad, once it is "their time." Sometimes missing him is merely a matter of chance, and sometimes the things you get caught up in (drugs, crime, loving the wrong person) hastens Death's appearance. No way to outrun him in some scenarios, and then, in others, when you are sure Death should take you...he passes by. Perhaps if you view the book from that perspective, you may see some other allusions in it, more existential and philosophical than just political. McCarthy tends toward the universal more often than the immediate.

message 2: by J (new) - rated it 3 stars

J Debi wrote: "Hi Joe,

Solely my opinion and please take it with a grain of salt, but I have never viewed Chigurh as an actual person. I believe he may be Death itself, and the coin flipping, among other imag..."

You know Debi, I think you are right and I may have seen it that way - symbolically - if I hadn't fallen into the trap of reading the book so literally. Upon entering the story, I went into 'cop' mode and remained there making my assessments and taking mental notes as the story unfolded. I wasn't philosophizing, I was 'working the case.'

I am not certain which iteration of my reviews you have read but my final one is the one I am going with. You are right. It goes way beyond the political. I am upset that I jumped the gun and began to write my review immediately after I finished the book. I awakened this morning thinking about it and came to the conclusion that I had to re-read the last fifty or so pages. It is a fascinating book.

There is something creepy about that character of Chigur. Your point is well taken. Call it my arrogance or call it the a the cop's survivor mentality but I find myself ruminating over the mistakes that led to each of those peoples' deaths and I think each was entirely avoidable. That said, I also think it is about bad choices, In my old line of work, I saw that theme played out over and over again.

I must add however, that I see Sheriff Bell's struggle with it all as somewhat specious. My experience with bad guys and people who died before their time ought to have been up is that they were careless - poor grammarians in the story of life.

message 3: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Edwards Hi Joe,
Nicely said. It is the mark of great literature that one's opinion of its themes can change so markedly upon further thought. I think the person who would be most interested in your literal reading of the book is McCarthy himself. He is a vastly curious man and spends much of his time in a literal "think tank" comprised of mostly scientists and theorists. -D.

message 4: by Maureen (new) - added it

Maureen Hi you guys,
Interesting when I read this but at one point when I was watching this movie for the umpteenth time I also thought perhaps Chigur was symbolically death. Now, I have millions of opinions on this solely as a movie, God help me if I ever find a moment to read the book. My TBR list/pile is to big to start but this is on/in it.
Fabulous review Joe and Deb, you know I love ya.


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