Synopses & Reviews
Set along a bloody frontier in our own time, this is Cormac McCarthy's first novel since Cities of the Plain
completed his acclaimed, best-selling "Border Trilogy."
Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and over $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes that Moss and his young wife are in desperate need of protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem.
The pursuit stretches along and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life? A harrowing story of a war that society wages on itself, an enduring meditation of the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, and a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.
"Seven years after Cities of the Plain
brought his acclaimed Border Trilogy to a close, McCarthy returns with a mesmerizing modern-day western. In 1980 southwest Texas, Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles across several dead men, a bunch of heroin and $2.4 million in cash. The bulk of the novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who's taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex-Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice. Also concerned about Moss's whereabouts is Sheriff Bell, an aging lawman struggling with his sense that there's a new breed of man (embodied in Chigurh) whose destructive power he simply cannot match. In a series of thoughtful first-person passages interspersed throughout, Sheriff Bell laments the changing world, wrestles with an uncomfortable memory from his service in WWII and a soft ray of light in a book so steeped in bloodshed rejoices in the great good fortune of his marriage. While the action of the novel thrills, it's the sensitivity and wisdom of Sheriff Bell that makes the book a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance play in the shaping of a life. Agent, Amanda Urban
" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
(Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Shades of Dostoyevsky
, and Faulkner
resonate in McCarthy's blend of lyrical narrative, staccato dialogue, and action-packed scenes splattered with bullets and blood." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[N]asty fun...a darting movie-ready narrative that rips along like hell on wheels....Such sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if McCarthy didn't keep it moving faster than the reader can pause to think about it." Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review
"The pace is deliberately grim and airless the book has little of the space and quiet that resonated beneath All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing. As a result, the murders are numbing rather than moving..." The Christian Science Monitor
"With his stripped-down Marlboro Man prose, Cormac McCarthy knows how to write a bang-up Western thriller. But when he strives for grand mythic effect in the second half...his taut, suspenseful story quickly heads south. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A]n entertaining novel from one of our best writers. Often seen as a fabulist and an engineer of dark morality tales, McCarthy is first a storyteller." The Washington Post
"No Country for Old Men would easily translate to the big screen so long as Bell's tedious, long-winded monologues were left on the cutting room floor a move that would also have made this a considerably more persuasive novel." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
In this modern-day Western--his first novel since "Cities of the Plain" completed his acclaimed, bestselling Border Trilogy--McCarthy pens a harrowing story of a war that society wages on itself, an enduring meditation of the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies.
About the Author
Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933 and spent most of his childhood near Knoxville, Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Air Force and later studied at the University of Tennessee. In 1976 he moved to El Paso, Texas, where he lives today. McCarthy's fiction parallels his movement from the Southeast to the West the first four novels being set in Tennessee, the last three in the Southwest and Mexico. The Orchard Keeper
(1965) won the Faulkner Award for a first novel; it was followed by Outer Dark
(1968), Child of God
(1979), Blood Meridian
(1985), All the Pretty Horses
, which won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for fiction in 1992, and The Crossing
and Cities of the Plain
, which completes The Border Trilogy.
Reading Group Guide
1. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeatss poem “Sailing to Byzantium”: “That is no country for old men, the young / In one anothers arms, birds in the trees, / —Those dying generations—at their song.” The poem also contains the lines: “An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, / Unless soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress.” Why has McCarthy chosen a line from Yeats poem for his title? In what ways is No Country for Old Men
about aging? Does Sheriff Bell experience any kind of spiritual rejuvenation as he ages?
2. McCarthy has a distinctive prose style—pared down, direct, colloquial—and he relies on terse, clipped dialogue rather than narrative exposition to move his story along. Why is this style so powerful and so well-suited to the story he tells in No Country for Old Men?
3. Early in the novel, after Bell surveys the carnage in the desert, he tells Lamar: “I just have this feelin were looking at something we really aint never even seen before” [p. 46]. In what way is the violence Sheriff Bell encounters different than what has come before? Is Anton Chigurh a new kind of killer? Is he a “true and living prophet of destruction,” [p. 4] as Bell thinks? In what ways does he challenge Bells worldview and values?
4. After Llewelyn finds the money and comes home, he decides to go back to the scene of the crime. He tells his wife: “Im fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but Im goin anways” [p. 24]. Why does he go back, even though he knows it is a foolish and dangerous thing to do? What are the consequences of this decision?
5. When asked about the rise in crime in his county, Bell says that “It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight” [p. 304]. Is he right about this? Why would deteriorating manners signal a larger social chaos?
6. How can Anton Chigurhs behavior be explained? What motivates him to kill so methodically and heartlessly? How does he regard the people he kills?
7. Llewellyn tells the young woman he picks up hitchhiking: “Things happen to you they happen. They dont ask first. They dont require your permission” [p. 220]. Have things simply happened to Llewellyn or does he play a more active role in his fate? Does his life in fact seem fated?
8. What motivates Sheriff Bell? Why does he feel so protective of Llewellyn and his wife? In what ways does Sheriff Bells past, particularly his war experience, affect his actions in the present?
9. McCarthy will often tell the reader that one of his characters is “thinking things over” without revealing what the character is thinking about [see p. 107]. Most novelists describe in great detail what their characters are thinking and feeling. Why does McCarthy choose not to do this? What does he gain by leaving such information out?
10. Sheriff Bell says, “The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. . . . Which I reckon some would take as meanin the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. . . . You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt” [p. 123]. What incorruptible truths emerge from the story that McCarthy tells in No Country for Old Men?
11. In the italicized sections of the novel, Sheriff Bell reflects on what he feels is the moral decline and growing violence of the world around him. What is the moral code that Bell lives by? What are his strongest beliefs? How has he acquired these beliefs?
12. Jeffery Lent, writing in The Washington Post Book World, described No Country for Old Men as “profoundly disturbing” [“Blood Money,” The Washington Post Book World, July 17, 2005]. What is it about the story that McCarthy tells and the way he tells it that is so unsettling?
13. Near the end of the novel, Bell says: “I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come and I dont care what shape it takes” [p. 295]. What kind of future is Bell imagining? Why does he think we are not ready for it? How can No Country for Old Men be understood as an apocalyptic novel?
“Profoundly disturbing and gorgeously rendered. . . . The most accessible of all his works.” —The Washington Post
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to stimulate your groups discussion of No Country for Old Men, the first novel by acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy since the completion of his award-winning and bestselling Border Trilogy.