No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I have this little tradition of going to the bookstore on my last day of work to buy summer reading books that I don’t need. Somehow these new books always get catapulted to the top of my “To Be Read” list. I’d seen No Country for Old Men before and even read the first few pages, but I’d never purchased it because it always seemed a little too violent and intense for my tastes. Well, last Wednesday I saw it on the “psychological thriller” shelf at Barnes and Noble and decided to go for it (I need to check some categories off on the Book Fifty Challenge Sheet!). I used a gift card, which made me feel slightly better about the whole thing.

I bought it on Wednesday. Then I started reading it. Guys. This book is so good. I tried to pace myself through the book and not gobble it up in one sitting, but I gave up and finished almost all of it on Saturday, turning the pages as fast as I could.

That being said, this book is not for the faint of heart. It has gratuitous violence–something I’m really not a fan of–disturbing images, and some language. On the whole, it’s not my normal style. But let me say it again: this book is so good.

The book follows Llewelyn Moss, a good old boy who is out hunting near the Rio Grande when he discovers a massive drug deal gone wrong. He finds a truckload of heroin and $2.4 million dollars in cash, along with quite a few dead bodies. Moss makes his first mistake when he steals the money, but he makes his second mistake when he returns to the scene later the same night. That’s when he’s discovered, and that’s when he has to start running for his life.

At the same time, the story is interspersed with first person narration from Sheriff Bell, an old Sheriff in Texas who reminisces on what life used to be like and what it is like now in this new era. This, to me, is the redeeming quality of this book. I mentioned earlier that I don’t like gratuitous violence or other disturbing images, and while I think some of the violence in this book could be deemed unnecessary, McCarthy uses all of these graphic images to raise questions about where our society is headed.

The villain, a ruthless, cold-blooded killer named Chigurh, doesn’t act the way we believe rational people should act. His mindset is so twisted and so heartless that he seems too overdrawn to be real. But the truth is there are people like this in our world today–they’re the kinds of people who walk into schools with weapons, ready to shoot children–the kinds of people who ram vehicles into crowds of people. They might not be so mythically painted or described, but they are evil, and they only do what is right in their own eyes. We as humans have always been like this because we have a sin problem, but McCarthy’s book feels very applicable to today’s society.

Just like Steinbeck in his book To a God Unknown, I don’t think McCarthy’s intention was to paint such a vivid picture of humanity’s lost state, but when we read everything in light of the gospel, truths like that shine through. And maybe this is a spoiler, but No Country for Old Men doesn’t have a very happy ending. It can’t, when the characters are too caught up in getting what they feel they deserve with no regard to the consequences of their immorality.

On the whole, I would highly recommend this book if you’re not turned off by the thought of some violence and disturbing moments. This was my second book by McCarthy (The first was The Road, which was also AMAZING), and even though his style and subject matter make me a little nervous, I think I can imagine myself finding other books of his and giving them a try.

One thing I won’t do is watch the film version of this book. For some reason, seeing something on a screen is much more disturbing to me than reading about it in a book. I think when I visualize what I’m reading I can limit the amount of gore that I see. When it’s on the TV there’s no escaping it!

Have you read No Country for Old Men? Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

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