Thursday, October 24, 2013

No Country for Old Men: In which I am that one slow rhino in Jumanji

I’ve done it. I’ve uncovered a hidden gem of literary genius heretofore BURIED in obscurity . . . and its name is No Country for Old Men.

I thought the invitation said 8 sharp?

OK, so yeah. Maybe I'm a little late to this party, but I was never drawn to Cormac McCarthy's whole vibe, and the movie adaptation came out the same year as There Will Be Blood, which interested me not in the slightest. And I kept getting them confused. Fast-forward . . . oh, I don’t know, 6 years? to me puttering around the paperback shelves at the library. And, lo! Here’s the book version of that one movie people speak of so highly and that also stars Tommy Lee Jones, whom you would have to be a monster not to adore in every way.

Also, I had somehow made it up to that point in history without learning anything about the story, and you just don’t continue to tempt fate like that.

Well, this book is THE BEST.

It’s a modern Western set in a sleepy Texas town, right near the Mexican border. And there’s a dear, sweet old sheriff who isn’t much used to trouble in his part of the world. And he gets these short first-person monologues between every chapter to tell us all about himself and make us worry for his safety as the action escalates. And also to be adorably in love with his wife.
Me I was always lucky. My whole life. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Scrapes I been in. But the day I seen her come out of Kerr’s Mercantile and cross the street and she passed me and I tipped my hat to her and got just almost a smile back, that was the luckiest. (p. 91)
Just stay there 'cause I'm gonna hug you.

As for the action, a young man named Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the bloody aftermath of a desert drug exchange gone awry, and he makes off with a case full of money that he finds in the possession of a dead man. This is a very stupid thing to do, and he knows it. He sends his 19-year-old wife out of town and, he hopes, out of harm’s way and sets off on the run, trying to shake the criminal parties who would now very much like to make him dead and relieve him of that money. One of those parties is Anton Chigurh, a sociopathic hit man who cannot be reasoned, bargained, or pleaded with.

The character development is impeccable. There are a handful of main personalities, of course, but the ancillary characters are no less fleshed out or believable. What struck me most was that in this sparely written, macho-manly-masculine modern Western, there is not one but TWO strong female characters.

Sheriff Bell’s wife, Loretta, doesn’t get much time on the page in real time, but her husband makes sure that we know who she is and how much credit he gives her for . . . well, everything.
I don’t believe you could do this job without a wife. A pretty unusual wife at that. Cook and jailer and I don’t know what all. Them boys don’t know how good they’ve got it. Well, maybe they do. I never worried about her bein safe. (p. 159)
And Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, although young, doesn’t fall to pieces when the Sheriff sits her down at a coffee shop to explain just how MUCH danger her husband is in.
I’ll tell you something, Sheriff. Nineteen is old enough to know that if you have got somethin that means the world to you it’s all that more likely it’ll get took away. (p. 134)
I know a lot of people complain about the ending to the movie, which I can tell you, without spoiling anything, is extremely faithful to the book. When I got to the end of the book, I flipped back and forth through the last five pages trying to make sure I didn’t miss something. And I wrote, “That ending. I don’t get it.”

But now that I’ve also seen the movie and had some time to let it simmer, I’m in love with the ending. It’s the only ending it ever could have had. And I got into an honest-to-goodness argument with my husband on this subject last night, culminating in me yelling, “I GUESS YOU JUST DON’T APPRECIATE NUANCE.”

Even if you’ve seen the movie, in which the Coen brothers proved to be responsible stewards of the source material, you should still read the book. Because a couple of awesome things were left out. Like the depth of the female characters . . . and this bit of dialogue:
This whole thing is just hell in spectacles, aint it Sheriff. (p. 79)


  1. Tommy Lee Jones is the best. I was so happy in Japan because he was the face of Boss Coffee, and seeing his face looking gloomily out of 10 zillion vending machines was amazing.

    The uh, book also sounds good.

  2. Megs! I ALSO confused No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood when they came out at basically the same time (whyyyyy?) and I've seen them both and I still kind of can't tell the difference... Bad.

    So I've read this and seen the movie and I kind of... Didn't... Like it? I think that basically Cormac McCarthy writes in a way that I don't really care for, and all those things happen that I don't really care about and yeah. I'M SORRY! *ducks and covers*

    Having said that, Tommy Lee Jones's face is excellent. EXCELLENT, I tell you.

  3. Ok, I'll read this. But yeah, toooooooooooooootes confused it with There Will Be Blood. And I know nothing about either. But we like stilted Westerns, right? Because Sisters Brothers + True Grit?

  4. I'm glad this has turned into a Tommy Lee Jones love fest. That's all that REALLY matters, in the end.

  5. It's quite alright that you didn't like this, Laura. Quite alright. But if you had then said that you also dislike Tommy Lee Jones, that would have been NOT ALRIGHT AT ALL.

  6. How are they so confusable? Isn't There Will Be Blood about oil barons and also set in OLDEN times?

    Stilted Westerns, I have recently discovered, are most certainly my jam.

  7. I'm happy you yelled that your husband doesn't appreciate nuance.

    I think I will read this one. I mean you were right (so so right) about The Sisters Brothers.

  8. Hee hee. Batman in a bell jar.
    Ahem! I loved this book and liked the movie quite a bit, too. Tommy Lee Jones is pretty masterful in this role and if I were to read this book again it would clearly be wth his voice in mind.

    I mean, this book might as well have been called There Will Be Blood, but this story is SO MUCH BETTER than that one.

  9. I'm pretty upset that Patrick deWitt is too cool for social media. HOW WILL HE KNOW OF OUR LOVE?

  10. You can tell the movie is excellently cast when you picture all the actors as you read it and you haven't even SEEN the movie yet.