“All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more goin out the door.”
-Cormac McCarthy, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
I’ve tried to read Cormac McCarthy before; a lot of friends have recommended him, including our own Jamie Delano (hey, Jamie). I always found him very cold -- McCarthy, not Jamie -- full of beautiful imagery but somehow uninvolving. I got a hundred pages into BLOOD MERIDIAN before giving up…and yet, ten years later, I can still remember some of the book’s striking, surreal visuals.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN isn’t what it seems. On the surface, it’s a police procedural that follows various criminals, lawmen, and bystanders around Texas and Mexico as they stumble into deeper and deeper shit. Along the way, you can learn such useful things as how to set a car on fire with a makeshift time-delay fuse, giving yourself time enough to casually stroll out of range.
But the crime elements ultimately lead around in circles, in service of a series of sad, fascinating existential questions. I don’t agree with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s view of the modern world, which may or may not reflect McCarthy’s own…but I found his ruminations and reactions, as well as those of the minor characters, utterly engrossing.
It’s possible to imagine a film adaptation of NO COUNTRY that adapts three-fourths of the book faithfully, word for word, and yet completely misses the point. You can hear the studio meeting: Shouldn’t the crimes be solved? Shouldn’t the audience get some satisfaction? Shouldn’t all the violence be for something?
I have a feeling I was trying to read McCarthy in small chunks before, while commuting. That doesn’t work. His writing requires more of a commitment. I’m glad I had the time, this time.