No Country for Old Men–Cormac McCarthy

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Didn’t we write about No Country for Old Men a week or two ago? Yeah, but that was for the upcoming Coen brothers movie; this post is a review of the audiobook, and I’m not creative enough to think of a different title.

So we listened to the entirety of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men over the course of two drives: from Jacksonville to St. Pete Beach and back. First off, as far as books-on-CD goes, this one was pretty good. Native Texan Tom Stechshulte manages to get all of the male characters spot on (the women in the novel sound kind of ridiculous though), and the action-filled plot, tight pacing, and simple sentences make for an easy-to-follow-while-driving listening experience (this is my number one criterion for an audiobook–you have to be able to follow the plot while navigating a road littered with truckers and asshole teenagers. F’r’instance, Faulkner’s short stories are almost impossible to follow in audiobook format).

Set in 1980, No Country for Old Men is the story of Llewellyn Moss, a Vietnam vet who stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad and a suitcase with 2.4 million dollars in it. Of course, he takes the money and runs. Assassin Chigurh is hot on his heels to collect the drug money, leaving a bloody wake of murder and chaos. Sheriff Bell, a WWII vet who first-person narrates the beginning of each section of the book, is also on the case, trying to track down Llewellyn before he gets himself killed.

The first five discs (of seven) of the book were excellent–an exercise in genre fiction–the crime-suspense novel–that transcends the limits of the genre’s tropes. McCarthy’s spare prose moves at just the right pace, with just the right amount of “literary” interjection. However, the end of the novel morphs (evolves or devolves?) into a meditation on war and the changing nature of America and the American people. McCarthy’s symbols and metaphors seem heavy-handed and downright clunky at times, and in the end, the book becomes something of a reflection on personal failures and regrets, and how these personal failures add up to national failures.

Perhaps because I was driving, and because I had been so involved with characters over the course of five compact discs who suddenly disappeared in the narrative, I was disappointed in the end. Perhaps if I had read the book instead of listening to it on compact disc while driving, I would have found the ending more profound, or even enjoyable. Who knows–reading books vs. listening to them is probably a subject for another post. I do think that the Coen brothers will make a fantastic movie out of this story–potentially on par with Fargo. We’ll see.

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