No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is a very good novel that, by all rights, should have been great.
It tells the story of a drug deal gone bad and how fate impacts different lives, and ends up shattering them. Written in a minimalist style with no quotation marks, commas or apostrophes, this literary quirk of McCarthy’s presents the story in raw and bold power. The violence of the novel isn’t symbolic or splatterpunk, it’s everyday real violence: unexpected and sudden and leaves you shivering and vulnerable.
The writing is laconic and powerful in its simplicity, as this passage relates:
“When he woke it was almost dark. He rose and went to the window and pushed back the old lace curtain. Lights in the street. Long reefs of dull red cloud racked over the darkening western horizon. Roofs in a low and squalid skyline. He put the pistol in his belt and pulled his shirt outside his trousers to cover it and went out and down the hallway in his sockfeet.”
I am a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. I think Blood Meridian is one of the best American novels out there. It’s easily in my top five.
I also like this novel a lot. There’sone thing that keeps me from giving it five stars, and it’s the thing that kept me from giving the film five stars. It has to do with the malevolent psychopath: Chigurh.
He is in effect little more than a Terminator, albeit in this case a biological one and not robot. He’s an unstoppable cipher (which is fine) but at the end of the novel he disappears leaving the reader with no resolution. This is done on purpose by McCarthy and therein lies the problem.
It’s transparent. It’s so obviously literary gamemanship that we see right through it. Chigurh’s disappearance loses its full power and leaves the novel (and the film) feeling broken and unfinished.
On the other hand, in Blood Meridian, the ending again is similar. There is no neat little bow to tie things up, and in Meridian we are abandoned. But McCarthy pulls it off with more aplomb and skill in that novel than he does with Country.
Don’t get me wrong. I still like this novel and I still like the film. I think McCarthy is damn amazing. It just does not reach the level of Blood Meridian.