The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, April 10, 2006

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

I got sucked into Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this weekend, and used it as an excuse to avoid grading papers. While living in Texas I fell for McCarthy, especially for his "Border Trilogy" of books about the Texas/New Mexico/Mexico badlands area, because just as I was reading them I was also starting to explore that vast and still remote area. McCarthy absolutely nails the landscape and the feel of it. I'm less confident swearing that he nails the people and the language as well, because I think that his portrayal of the men (always men) and the way they speak is appealing because I'd/we'd like to imagine our West Texans that way: laconic, folksy, witty, self-reliant, tough, accustomed to sudden violence. The plots of the books aren't much, but they just wash over you with their atmosphere and forward momentum.

His latest does the same thing, and although I was exhausted I stayed up an extra hour reading the first half of it. The novel takes place in 1980, a little later than most of his Texas books, but he's fixed upon a place where time doesn't signify exactly what it does in the rest of the country--well into the 1950s and 1960s it was assumed that most people in the area were quite familiar with horses, for instance, and with other implements that would have been typical for nineteenth-century folks, so the "Border Trilogy" exists in a kind of no-time. NO COUNTRY does a little bit of the same thing, but less of it. And that's the problem: it's just less of everything. It's a book largely about violence and its relentlessness, and in that sense it's much like his earlier book BLOOD MERIDIAN (the most violent book I've ever read, bar none), but unlike BLOOD MERIDIAN there's no grandeur to the story. NO COUNTRY is about a young man, a Vietnam vet, who stumbles across a drug deal gone bad while antelope hunting. He makes off with the cash but returns some time later and is spotted by survivors of the affair, who track him down and eventually (SPOILER) kill him. The book focuses on the hunter for the first part of the book, but then shifts its view to that of Sheriff Bell, the old lawman who is a relatively clich├ęd character (for McCarthy). And I just didn't care about him. The book trailed off for me; the interesting characters (Wells, the hunter, and Chigurh, the relentless killer) disappeared with about sixty pages to go.

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