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A Song for the Aging

  • Aug 27, 2005
  • by
Rating:
+5
Cormac McCarthy in his current novel NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN distills all that was fine in his previous novels, siphoning off the rambling verbal romance with the countryside, and keying in on character in a manner far more successful than ever. His language is so pungent and spare while saying volumes that this book could literally be turned into a script for a film without much doctoring. He tells a fascinatingly gory tale of crime in the realm of drug trafficking along the border of Texas and Mexico, a story so vividly painted in words that the reader may feel the need to turn the head aside to avoid the gruesome details, and yet excellent as this narrative is, the main punch that makes this novel so fine is the use of italicized musings by one old Sheriff Bell who reflects on the changes in his hometown and in the resultant spirit of mankind which seems to be heading toward destruction of society as we know (or have known) it.

The story involves youngish welder Lewellyn Moss who happens across murdered bodies and cars, finding an obvious heroin deal gone bad, the money for the payoff (some 2+ million dollars) left behind in a bag. In a moment of fate Moss decides to take the money and run, telling only his wife of his plans. How he proceeds through the chase by special agents and one evil plunderer who kills everything in his path that deters his seizing the money is the grisly bulk of the story. No sooner do we meet characters than they are killed - and the path of death spreads out like a plague from the intial site of the drug deal.

This is as descriptive and entrancing a crime novel as you will find, but that doesn't seem to be McCarthy's driver. A consummate storyteller, he pauses at various times during this story to allow the reader to breathe and during each entr'acte he places words in the language of Bell that muse on how war changes men, how decisions made spontaneously can cripple the mind for life, and how the current (set in the 1980s) climate has become so violent that salvation may not be feasible. The wisdom falls simply out of the mouths of the old men: "You think when you wake up in the morning yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it's made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who's layin there?" And on the subject of war: "I was too young for one war and too old for the next one. But I seen what come out of it. You can be patriotic and still believe that some things cost more than what they're worth. Ask them Gold Star mothers what they paid and what they got for it. You always pay too much. Particularly for promises. There aint no such thing as a bargain promise....I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didnt. I dont blame him. If I was him I'd have the same opinion about me he does."

Cormac McCarthy's ease of writing here makes this particular novel utterly irresistible. Few writers can match the naturalness of his prose and poetry of his content. In this reader's opinion, this is McCarthy's finest achievement. Recommended without reservation. Grady Harp, August 05

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About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #97
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Starred Review. Seven years afterCities of the Plainbrought his acclaimed Border Trilogy to a close, McCarthy returns with a mesmerizing modern-day western. In 1980 southwest Texas, Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles across several dead men, a bunch of heroin and $2.4 million in cash. The bulk of the novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who's taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex–Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice. Also concerned about Moss's whereabouts is Sheriff Bell, an aging lawman struggling with his sense that there's a new breed of man (embodied in Chigurh) whose destructive power he simply cannot match. In a series of thoughtful first-person passages interspersed throughout, Sheriff Bell laments the changing world, wrestles with an uncomfortable memory from his service in WWII and—a soft ray of light in a book so steeped in bloodshed—rejoices in the great good fortune of his marriage. While the action of the novel thrills, it's the sensitivity and wisdom of Sheriff Bell that makes the book a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance play in the shaping of a life.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0375406778
ISBN-13: 978-0375406775
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Knopf
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