No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

This was my first book by Cormac McCarthy, and I must admit he has won a reader for life. 

No Country For Old Men explodes with subtly and simplicity as it offers us Moss, a man who finds a drug deal gone bad in the middle of nowhere along the Mexican border.  Dead bodies are everywhere, and when he finds a case full of millions of dollars, he can’t help himself.  As you can imagine, there are numerable parties who’d like that money back.  And so the hunt for Moss begins.

Dialogue is terse, details are sparing, yet the story is absolutely riveting and I could not put it down.  For some McCarthy’s violence and unapologetic disregard for his characters’ safety may be upsetting, but I loved his dedication to giving us the story as it could only unfold.

We tend to shower accolades upon authors who give us specific descriptions on every conceivable object within a story.  I personally found McCarthy’s expertise with minimalism refreshing and quite admirable.

I completely recommend you read No Country For Old Men.

No Country for Old Men – A Movie Review

It’s a rare occurrence indeed when a film adaptation lives up to its source material, but with No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen have done right by Cormac McCarthy. 

In McCarthy’s novel, he is terse and economic with details.  The book moves at an incredibly frantic pace and he shows no mercy to any of his characters.  Often violence is implied and sometimes even painfully described.  The Coens made sure not to deviate from this established tone.

Because they work in a visual medium, the Coens not only had to capture the essence of No Country for Old Men, but they also had to literally show us what these characters looked like, all the way from their faces to their boots.  McCarthy allowed the reader to fill in quite a few visual and auditory gaps, but the Coens had no such luxury.

And so, in my mind, we were awfully lucky the Coens found the perfect Moss and Chigurh in Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem.  Brolin oozed the silent, capable resourcefulness of Moss while Bardem took a character who had thus been sparsely described and created cinematic gold. 

Chigurh is unsettling in the novel, but in the movie the Coens and Bardem make him a terrifying study of subtle villainy.  I don’t think Bardem raised his voice even once in the movie, but his empty facial expressions and slight voice inflections were more nerve-wracking than any chest-thumping or profanity-laced tirades.  Too often villains simply become the reverse of the protagonist.  Not in No Country for Old Men.  Not by a long shot.  Each character is his own man, far and away.

From a cinematic point of view, the Coens were marvelous with their choice of shots, locations, costumes, props, and acting directions.  There’s a particular scene near the beginning of the movie where a man is strangled while laying on his back upon the floor.  Graphic, yes, but what impressed me to no end is the fact that the Coens made sure the man’s boot heels left hundreds of scuff marks on the tiled floor.  That sort of attention to detail is much appreciated.

Some may feel the Coens offered too violent of a film.  I think it’s important to note that they embellished nothing from the novel.  The movie is one of the purest adaptations I’ve ever seen, and McCarthy wrote one very violent, unapologetic, merciless novel. 

I personally am grateful to the Coens for taking a masterfully written novel and treating its subject matter just as the author intended.  It would seem that because they converted literary art to true cinematic art, they were amply rewarded.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

I heard many positive statements about the work of Cormac McCarthy, and so a few weeks ago, I gave him a try with No Country for Old Men.  I was not disappointed. 


Because of such a sublime experience, I couldn’t wait to read another of his works, this time opting for The Road.  I must admit from my previous exposure to McCarthy, I had a very difficult time finding what possible allure The Road held for Oprah Winfrey, who named it her book of the month (or whatever she may call it) a while back. 


Nothing against Oprah, but I made sure to buy a used copy, one produced at a time when they weren’t yet stamping her approval upon the cover.


The Road had much in common with No Country for Old Men, but it also had many dissimilarities.  The commonalities included the lack of quotation marks, the terse sentences and paragraphs, and a minimalist approach to description.


In contrast, however, The Road did not grab my interest by the throat and demand I give it my full attention as did No Country for Old Men.  In fact, I found myself rather uninterested in The Road and struggled for the motivation to finish it.


I must wonder, however, if the slow, mind-numbing style employed by McCarthy meant to reflect the despair and melancholy his characters fought to overcome with every breath they took.


For The Road is the story of a post-apocalyptic world, one covered in ash where little to no life has survived.  A man and a boy travel a road, desperately heading to the ocean, though they know not what they’ll find upon arriving.  The boy has known no other world, but the man can remember a time without hunger, without death surrounding them like a second skin, and he wants more than anything to keep the boy alive.  The hope of finding the boy a better life is the only reason the man has for subsisting.


Nevertheless, because this is McCarthy, a happy conclusion is not guaranteed.


The composition of The Road mirrored the plight of its characters, and while this is an interesting stylistic choice, it ultimately left me dispassionate.  Though I am glad Oprah enjoyed it.


However, The Road did NOT turn me off McCarthy, who I still believe is an extraordinary writer, and I look forward to reading more of his work.