Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm-a gonna read 50 books in 2008! Maybe!

Here's book No. 1/50: Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men

I love Cormac McCarthy, as a general rule. I think Blood Meridian, Suttree, and The Road are among the finest novels of the last 40 years. But I'd heard other McCarthy lovers express indifference for much of his post-Blood Meridian work, and a reading of All The Pretty Horses a few years back seemed to confirm that take on the man's oeuvre. I thought as much as I loved his major works, maybe his minor ones weren't for me.

Then I saw the Coen Brothers' big screen adaptation of No Country For Old Men a couple of weeks back, and I figured that I should give the book a try. The movie spoke to me. I thought the book would, too.

And it does, but it's not the same. All my mental images have been pre-determined by the movie. Even where the book and movie diverge (which isn't often), I have a hard time picturing the scene without a stylistic similarity to the Coen Brothers' movie.

Anyway, yes, the book is pulpier and thinner than McCarthy's major works. The themes of inevitability and the rotten heart of human existence are on better display in other McCarthy books. Moss and Sheriff Bell could be Larry Brown creations. They are suitably rough and driven by internal monologues that aren't necessarily shared with the world (or readers, in Moss's case), but they lack the mythic otherness of McCarthy's best characters, although Chigurh certainly makes up for that.

It's a quick read, though. Because I saw the movie first - and because I think the movie is the superior work in this case - I'll never think of it on its own. I'm pretty sure it will always be a companion to the movie in my head.


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