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.
"Shades of Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, and Faulkner resonate in McCarthy's blend of lyrical narrative, staccato dialogue, and action-packed scenes splattered with bullets and blood." Booklist (Starred Review)
"In his latest novel, McCarthy stumbles headlong into self-parody....McCarthy lays out his rancorous worldview with all the nuance and subtlety of conservative talk radio....A made-for-television melodrama filled with guns and muscle cars..." Library Journal
"[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
"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
"Mr. McCarthy is smart to keep this book short and swift. After all, one can only sit through so many...speeches before retreating into numbness. But the question remains: Should a McCarthy novel be this easy to read?" Wall St. Journal
"Mr. McCarthy's story is so exquisitely harrowing that the reader can forget to breathe. But it's Sheriff Bell's private meditations interspersed between the chapters that give it its heft and soul." Dallas Morning News
"You will not be able to put it down the storytelling is thrilling and terrifying. But you will come away from the reading experience with something more than Grisham or Crichton or any other genre writer can provide a look into the darkest places of the human heart." Hartford Courant
"[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
"Of course two-thirds of a great book is more than we'll ever expect of most writers, but with McCarthy we've learned to set the bar higher, and by that standard No Country for Old Men, while riveting for much of its length, in the end falls short." Denver Post
"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
"While No Country for Old Men surely will be welcomed as a worthy addition to border literature, it can't compete with the vast claim previous McCarthy novels have staked in that rapidly expanding territory." Kansas City Star
"No plot summary will do this novel justice. There is plenty of action. Readers may need a flow chart to keep track, but the mystery is more than enough to keep any reader panting. Some of the spare, swift dialog is profound and some is wonderfully comic." St. Petersburg Times
"[A] heated story that brands the reader's mind as if seared by a knife heated upon campfire flames. [McCarthy] is nothing less than our greatest living writer, and this is a novel that must be read and remembered..." Houston Chronicle
"Despite McCarthy's trademark laconic, well-tuned style, the novel reads much like any number of crime thrillers now on the market....What's missing are the depth and nuances of emotion found in McCarthy's trilogy, particularly All The Pretty Horses." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"[A] taut thriller that not only holds, but also rewards, close attention....'There's no such thing as life without bloodshed,' McCarthy said 13 years ago in a rare interview. And like his character Moss, McCarthy can't help peeking. The constant question underlying his fiction is how we are to live on in the face of this knowledge." Ira Boudway, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this mornings headlines.
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 (1973), Suttree (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 Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium": "That is no country for old men, the young / In one another's 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 we're 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 Bell's 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: "I'm fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I'm 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 Chigurh's 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 don't 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 Bell's 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 don't 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 group's 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.