Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy


Rating: (Recommended)




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The rawness of plot, landscape and character belies the underlying complexity in Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, No Country For Old Men. There’s a battle between good and evil among the characters in this modern Western, where the violence will stun some readers. McCarthy uses dialect with precision, and develops characters expertly. Beneath the plot line, there’s a story about society and the struggle for community. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Section II, pp. 38-47:


I dont know if law enforcement work is more dangerous now than what it used to be or not. I know when I first took office you’d have a fistfight somewheres and you’d go to break it up and they’d offer to fight you. And sometimes you had to accommodate em. They wouldnt have it no other way. And you’d better not lose, neither. You dont see that so much no more, but maybe you see worse. I had a man pull a gun on me one time and it happened that I grabbed it just as he went to fire and the plunger on the hammer went right through the fleshy part of my thumb. You can see the mark of it there. But that man had ever intention of killin me. A few years ago and it wasnt that many neither I was goin out one of these little two lane blacktop roads of a night and I come up on a pickup truck that they was two old boys settin in the bed of it. They kindly blinked in the lights and I backed off some but the truck had Coahuila plates on it and I thought, well, I need to stop these old boys and take a look. So I hit the lights and whenever I done that I seen the slider window in the back of the cab open and here come somebody passin a shotgun out the window to the old boy settin in the bed of the truck. I’ll tell you right now I hit them brakes with both feet. It skidded the unit sideways to where the lights was goin out into the brush but the last thing I seen in the bed of the truck was the old boy puttin that shotgun to his shoulder. I hit the seat and l just had hit it when here come the windshield all over me in them little bitty pieces they break up into. I still had one foot on the brake and I could feel the cruiser slidin down into the bar ditch and I thought it was goin to roll but it didnt. It filled the car just full of dirt. The old boy he opened up on me twice more and shot all the glass out of one side of the cruiser and by then I’d come to a stop and I laid there in the seat, had my pistol out, and I heard that pickup leave out and I raised up and fired several shots at the taillights but they was long gone.


Point bein you dont know what all you’re stoppin when you do stop somebody. You take out on the highway. You walk up to a car and you dont know what you’re liable to find. I set there in that cruiser for a long time. The motor had died but the lights was still on. Cab full of glass and dirt. I got out and kindly shook myself off and got back in and just set there. Just kindly collectin my thoughts. Windshield wipers hangin in on the dashboard. I turned off the lights and I just set there. You take somebody that will actually throw down on a law enforcement officer and open fire, you have got some very serious people. I never saw that truck again. Nobody else did neither. Or not them plates noways. Maybe I should of took out after it. Or tried to. I dont know. I drove back to Sanderson and pulled in at the cafe and l’ll tell you they come from all over to see that cruiser. It was shot just full of holes. Looked like the Bonnie and Clyde car. I didnt have a mark on me. Not even from all that glass. I was criticized for that too. Parkin there like I done. They said I was showin out. Well, maybe I was. But I needed that cup of coffee too, I’ll tell you.


I read the papers ever mornin. Mostly I suppose just to try and figure out what might be headed this way. Not that I’ve done all that good a job at headin it off. It keeps gettin harder. Here a while back they was two boys run into one another and one of em was from California and one from Florida. And they met somewheres or other in between. And then they set out together travelin around the country killin people. I forget how many they did kill. Now what are the chances of a thing like that? Them two had never laid eyes on one another. There cant be that many of em. I dont think. Well, we dont know. Here the other day they was a woman put her baby in a trash compactor. Who would think of such a thing? My wife wont read the papers no more. She’s probably right. She gen­erally is.


Bell climbed the rear steps of the courthouse and went down the hail to his office. He swiveled his chair around and sat and looked at the telephone. Go ahead, he said. I’m here.


The phone rang. He reached and picked it up. Sheriff Bell, he said.


He listened. He nodded.


Mrs Downie I believe he’ll come down directly. Why dont you call me back here in a little bit. Yes mam.


He took off his hat and put it on the desk and sat with his eyes closed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Yes mam, he said. Yes mam.


Mrs Downie I havent seen that many dead cats in trees. I think he’ll come down directly if you’ll just leave him be. You call me back in a little bit, you hear?


He hung the phone up and sat looking at it. It’s money, he said. You have enough money you dont have to talk to people about cats in trees.


Well. Maybe you do.


The radio squawked. He picked up the receiver and pushed the button and put his feet up on the desk. Bell, he said.


He sat listening. He lowered his feet to the floor and sat up. Get the keys and look in the turtle. That’s all right. I’m right here.


He drummed his fingers on the desk.


All right. Keep your lights on. I’ll be there in fifty minutes. And Torbert? Shut the trunk.





He and Wendell pulled onto the paved shoulder in front of the unit and parked and got out. Torbert got out and was standing by the door of his car. The sheriff nodded. He walked along the edge of the roadway studying the tire tracks. You seen this, I reckon, he said.




Well let’s take a look.


Torbert opened the trunk and they stood looking at the body. The front of the man’s shirt was covered with blood, partly dried. His whole face was bloody. Bell leaned and reached into the trunk and took something from the man’s shirtpocket and unfolded it. It was a bloodstained receipt for gas from a service station in Junction Texas. Well, he said. This was the end of the road for Bill Wyrick.


I didnt look to see if he had a billfold on him.


That’s all right. He dont. This here was just dumb luck.


He studied the hole in the man’s forehead. Looks like a .45. Clean. Almost like a wadcutter.


What’s a wadcutter?


It’s a target round. You got the keys?




Bell shut the trunklid. He looked around. Passing trucks on the interstate were downshifting as they approached. I’ve already talked to Lamar. Told him he can have his unit back in about three days. I called Austin and they’re lookin for you first thing in the mornin. I aint loadin him into one of our units and he damn sure dont need a helicopter. You take Lamar’s unit back to Sonora when you get done and call and me or Wendell one will come and get you. You got any money?


Yes sir.


Fill out the report same as any report.




White male, late thirties, medium build.


How do you spell Wyrick?


You dont spell it. We dont know what his name is.




He might have a family someplace.


Yessir. Sheriff?




What do we have on the perpetrator?


We dont. Give Wendell your keys fore you forget it.


They’re in the unit.


Well let’s not be leavin keys in the units.




I’ll see you in two days’ time.




I hope that son of a bitch is in California.


Yessir. I know what you mean.


I got a feelin he aint.


Yessir. I do too.


Wendell, you ready?


Wendell leaned and spat. Yessir, he said. I’m ready. He looked at Torbert. You get stopped with that old boy in the turtle just tell em you dont know nothin about it. Tell em somebody must of put him in there while you was havin coffee.


Torbert nodded. You and the sheriff goin to come down and get me off of death row?


If we cant get you out we’ll get in there with you.


You all dont be makin light of the dead thataway, Bell said.


Wendell nodded. Yessir, he said. You’re right. I might be one myself some day.


Driving out 90 toward the turnoff at Dryden he came across a hawk dead in the road. He saw the feathers move in the wind. He pulled over and got out and walked back and squatted on his bootheels and looked at it. He raised one wing and let it fall again. Cold yellow eye dead to the blue vault above them.


It was a big redtail. He picked it up by one wingtip and car­ried it to the bar ditch and laid it in the grass. They would hunt the blacktop, sitting on the high powerpoles and watch­ing the highway in both directions for miles. Any small thing that might venture to cross. Closing on their prey against the sun. Shadowless. Lost in the concentration of the hunter. He wouldnt have the trucks running over it.


He stood there looking out across the desert. So quiet. Low hum of wind in the wires. High bloodweeds along the road. Wiregrass and sacahuista. Beyond in the stone arroyos the tracks of dragons. The raw rock mountains shadowed in the late sun and to the east the shimmering abscissa of the desert plains under a sky where raincurtains hung dark as soot all along the quadrant. That god lives in silence who has scoured the following land with salt and ash. He walked back to the cruiser and got in and pulled away.


When he pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office in Sonora the first thing he saw was the yellow tape stretched across the parking lot. A small courthouse crowd. He got out and crossed the street.


What’s happened, Sheriff?


I dont know, said Bell. I just got here.


He ducked under the tape and went up the steps. Lamar looked up when he tapped at the door. Come in, Ed Tom, he said. Come in. We got hell to pay here.


They walked out on the courthouse lawn. Some of the men followed them.


You all go on, said Lamar. Me and the sheriff here need to talk.


He looked haggard. He looked at Bell and he looked at the ground. He shook his head and looked away. I used to play mumbledypeg here when I was a boy. Right here. These youngsters today I dont think would even know what that was. Ed Tom this is a damned lunatic.


I hear you.


You got anything to go on?


Not really.


Lamar looked away. He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. I’ll tell you right now. This son of a bitch will never see a day in court. Not if I catch him he wont.


Well, we need to catch him first.


That boy was married.


I didnt know that.


Twenty-three year old. Clean cut boy. Straight as a die. Now I got to go out to his house fore his wife hears it on the damn radio.


I dont envy you that. I surely dont.


I think I’m goin to quit, Ed Tom.


You want me to go out there with you?


No. I appreciate it. I need to go.


All right.


I just have this feelin we’re looking at somethin we really aint never even seen before.


I got the same feelin. Let me call you this evenin.


I appreciate it.


He watched Lamar cross the lawn and climb the steps to his office. I hope you dont quit, he said. I think we’re goin to need all of you we can get.


Chance and luck change lives in No Country For Old Men, and McCarthy tells the story with skill. Today’s world needs something that appears to be missing. Reading this novel may help find what that is.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2005 issue of Executive Times


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