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Responding to evil: Cormac McCarthy meets J.K. Rolling (not quite, but ...)

  • Aug 13, 2005
Like all of the McCarthy works I've read, this is a suberbly written, raw and stunningly violent novel. It is also, unlike especially his masterpiece Blood Meridian, a quick and easy (which does not mean comfortable or comforting) read: a thriller with a rigorous plot and pace.

I won't repeat details that have already been included in other reviews, but did think one point worth mentioning that I haven't seen in the other reviews. One feature of this novel that stands out are the continual references to the novelty of the criminals that the "old men" of the novel (especially Sheriff Bell) are facing. Their cold, clinical brutality that operates with no concern for the law -- here in the context of drug trafficking -- is something that Bell seems to think is entirely new. What is noteworthy, though, is that in the context of McCarthy's work this is not new at all (I am thinking especially of Blood Meridian). I think that is an indication that we shouldn't simply or easily identify McCarthy's point of view as author with the narrative voice of Sherrif Bell (who is clearly at the center of this story, though for a time displaced by Llewelyn). While for Bell this is all new, I think that McCarthy's work is saying that brutality (at the heart of war and violence, as these reveal themselves to be not reducible to utility, but as a kind of end in themselves for at least some of their participants) has always been with us and is apparently inescapable. There are those who kill without remorse -- and the morbid fascination that we as a culture have for such beings indicates that what drives them is not entirely alien to any of us. What he is exploring in his various works, I think, are the various ways in which one might confront and respond to this fact.

This novel presents one such response: Sheriff Bell does see into the abyss here, and while others may shrug off his own sense of guilt, he knows he cannot simply dismiss the horror of the abyss because he sees affinities with evil in his own instinctive act of self-preservation during wartime. Still, in his sometimes rambling italicized discussions, we see one genuine alternative to admitting the dominance of a horror that really can never be wholly overcome. It is to give oneself over to the fragile and risky bonds of trust and love and the always impermanent efforts of people (not laws) to institute order and protect the innocent.

Along those lines, it strikes me that in spite of vast differences in style and approach (most notably Rowling's tendency to say far more than is necessary contrasts with McCarthy's leanness of prose), this novel converges very closely in its subject matter and conclusions with the book I just finished reading with my kids: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. What makes Harry (compare Sheriff Bell) different from Voldemort (who, as revealed in the Half Blood Prince, is not so far from the chilling criminal Chigurh at the center of this novel) is not any greater skill he possesses (he doesn't and is in fact not entirely disciplined) but the fact he is willing to rely on others who he knows are better than him in some things, cares more about friendship than personal gain, and is (for the most part, though imperfectly) driven to protect others rather than out of any desire to be perceived heroic.

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review by . December 11, 2007
Am I gone soft, rating three of the last four books I've read as classics? Well I think not, because of the widely divergent subjects: Les Miserables, Moneyball, and No Country for Old Men, about as disparate as any three books could be. But, as I said in reviewing Moneyball, don't prejudge a book by its subject. And the subjects of these books are only matched by the ability of the authors to write superbly about them.    McCarthy writes this spare, tense novel in short sentences, …
review by . June 03, 2010
   Cormac McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men" is like an update/hybrid of both the thriller and western genres.   It's a relentless, merciless story of a man who discovers and absconds with a cache of drug money (Llewelyn), a hired killer who will stop at nothing to track him down (Chigurh), and an aging sheriff (Bell) who can't understand the motivations driving this younger generation.      McCarthy's spare prose creates claustrophobic scenes for …
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
A suspense-ridden page turner by one of America's most timeless authors.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
A dark and gruesome look at the power and dangers of greed.
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
movie was better
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Good Book, Great Story, Interesting, catchy, gets you involved every chapter
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Better than the movie
review by . October 29, 2008
No Country For Old Men
'No Country For Old Men' starts fast, with a violent murder of a young deputy by a chained prisoner. Then it switches to Llewelyn Moss, who's out hunting antelope when he stumbles across three trucks and multiple dead men in the middle of nowhere. In the back of one truck is Mexican brown heroin, in the back of another two million dollars in a case. Moss takes the money and heads home, but after waking up in the middle of the night decides to go back to the scene. Big mistake, this time he's not …
review by . February 06, 2006
Years back, Kirk Douglas starred in a dark masterpiece called "Lonely Are The Brave." A cowboy was living out the old code in a modern era. The Dalton Trumbull screenplay and Douglas's performance left me sad for the passing of an age.     Cormac McCarthy evokes this passing of ages theme in "No Country For Old Men."     Llewelyn Moss, a welder from small-town nowhere is out hunting antelope when he comes across a modern day massacre. No circled wagons here. …
review by . December 27, 2005
"Yeah, Wendell said. I guess you ought to be careful cussin the dead.  I would say at the least there probably aint no luck in it.  It's just a bunch of Mexican drugrunners.  They were. They aint now.  I aint sure what you're saying.  I'm just saying that whatever they were the only thing they are now is dead.  I'll have to sleep on that."  (No Country For Old Men, Page 73)    Sleep is something in short supply …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … 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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ISBN-10: 0375406778
ISBN-13: 978-0375406775
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Knopf
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