Saturday, August 06, 2005

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Many years ago, as a teenager in a dusty West Texas town, I picked up a book at the library called All the Pretty Horses. It wasn’t the kind of book I would usually read. Being that I wanted nothing more in the world than to escape where I lived, I generally chose to read books about places far, far away. I preferred the rainy London streets to take me away from the Texas heat. I’m not even sure why I decided to check out the book, I didn’t have a clue as to what it was about. But it looked interesting and I was curious as to what someone had to write about the area that I reluctantly called home.

Immediately I was sucked into the story and swept away by the main character's adventures. I couldn’t put the book down. It wasn’t just the descriptions of the people and the land that captivated me, but rather the tale of an escape, abandoning everything to find yourself. I think of it as the West Texas version of Catcher in the Rye. I’m sure my love of the book also had a lot to do with the fact that I was in such dire need of an escape as well. I was so ready to leave everything simply to find something.

The thing is, living out in West Texas, you feel very isolated. You can’t understand that feeling if you’ve never lived like that. But you can stay there for your entire life and never have a clue as to what is happening anywhere else in the world. A lot of people are just fine living that way. They believe the world ceases to exist outside of their city limits. But sometimes, living out there feels as if you are hidden, lost, disconnected and abandoned. So the fact that someone had written a book, a beautiful book that spoke so eloquently about an area I assumed no one knew existed gave me a sense of connection. Because of this book, people all over the world were reading about this place. Somewhere in a big city that I could only dream of visiting, a person was reading about San Angelo and Eldorado and Iraan. This land was not completely forgotten, in our pathetic, desperate existence, breathing in the oil and the fumes and burning under the dry sun. For a few pages, we were known to the rest of the world. People everywhere were reading the name of the town, Iraan. I despise Iraan, having spent entirely too many years of my life in that town, but I really do love that book.

So I was looking forward to McCarthy’s latest, No Country for Old Men. The book takes place near the border, revisiting the area covered in All the Pretty Horses. A drug deal goes bad, someone finds some money and runs, the book is about his running and those chasing him. There’s an inexplicably evil killer who wants the money and kills for pleasure and there’s a sheriff from Sanderson who wants to protect the people of his county. The sheriff would be the old man, saddened and fearful of the deterioration of the world around him, the new breed of evil that he sees.

I enjoyed the book. I started reading this book when I got home from work around eight one evening and didn’t go to bed until I finished it. I never found a comfortable stopping point. Also, I feel like a person doesn’t get the full benefit of McCarthy’s writing if they do a lot of stop and start reading. You have to be ready to dive in and let the words carry you along.

This story does just that. It’s a rush from city to city, gunfight to the next gunfight. Brisk. Run, run, run. Don’t stop to look behind you or you’re dead. You never get bogged down in the details.

My only issue with the book was the a few seemingly preachy references to Jesus -- as in the world has gone to hell because of the lack of Jesus. However, it is appropriate for the setting, and I wonder if maybe it stands as symbolic of how out of touch that desolate area of Texas is from the rest of the world. They seem to want to blame everything on a lack of Jesus and not their own ignorance. Too often these people who love their Jesus so much show complete disregard for their fellow humans. This is a place plagued by racism and greed. Also, I was a bit offended by the idea that kids with green hair were to blame for evil in the world.

I thought the setting felt real. Again, I felt the twinge of recognition as the characters traveled to and from towns I knew in my childhood. The characters sounded real. However, the sheriff, I questioned. He seemed quite noble and determined to protect the citizens of his county. My own experiences with West Texas law officers, and the abuses I witnessed around me when I was a resident of that area, leads me to regard the sheriff as very much a work of fiction. Noble and protective are not words I would use to describe a small town Texas law officer.

Most accurately I felt the novel showed the evil that can result from greed. From the beginning, the person who tried to run off with money that didn’t belong to him should have known he would end badly. You don’t walk off with 2.4 million for free. That’s my preachy bit -- don’t take things that don’t belong to you, it will make your life much easier.

My recommendation: If you like fast paced action stories, you’ll probably like this. It’s not going to change your world or break your heart or anything that dramatic. But it will provide a few decent hours of entertainment.

Finished reading the book on August 4, 2005

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