Throwback Thursday ~ No Country for Old Men

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Cover via Goodreads

One day, a good old boy named Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.

As Moss tries to evade his pursuers–in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives–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 morning’s headlines. (via Goodreads)

I have a love-hate relationship with both Cormac McCarthy (author of this book) and the Coen brothers who co-wrote and directed the 2007 movie. As I originally wrote:

The first time I encountered Cormac McCarthy was online, in an excerpt from one of his books. WTF, I thought. Not only does this guy not use dialogue tags, he doesn’t use dialogue punctuation. As a writer it’s the kind of thing that makes me scowl. How come this guy gets away with playing fast and loose with his punctuation while I’d probably get dismissed out of hand by sending in a writing submission that way? The lack of punctuation seems to bother no one but me, so maybe I’m labeling myself as an unsophisticated n00b by complaining about it. *shrug* What have you. Nonetheless, it took me while to decide to read McCarthy’s stuff.

I was very impressed by the movie No Country for Old Men and I got curious about how McCarthy wrote it. And how the lack of dialogue punctuation affects how the reader experiences the text. McCarthy’s writing is very clean. His sentences are structured simply and his details are only in evidence when they’re needed. When he spends a few paragraphs on Moss’s guns, it’s to convey the expertise of the character. Clean writing is something I envy. Most of the time, McCarthy proves that dialogue tags are the safety nets of authors that…well…need safety nets. Myself included. I’ve tried to cut back on the number of tags I use. Really, I have! But there are times when a nice “he said” would have come in handy. The punctuation… As a fairly aural reader, it removed any special emphasis I might give to what was being said by characters. Whether that’s the intent and whether it’s a similar experience for other readers, I don’t know. I was occasionally confused by the lack and that bugged me. I’m from the transparent writing school of thought. I don’t believe the text itself should get in the way of the storytelling. There are exceptions and there are techniques of using the text to make the reader slow down and contemplate what’s going on, but I’d say the times when I had to reread a passage it was for clarity’s sake. It wasn’t to have McCarthy reiterate something important.

On the whole, begrudgingly I admit, this is a very good book. It’s certainly the best I’ve read this year, thus far. I’ll be reading The Road sometime in the near future.

My opinion of The Road was pretty much the exact opposite of my opinion of No Country for Old Men. Likewise, the movie is one of my favorites, but I’m not much of a fan of many other Coen brothers’ movies.  Their sense of humor and mine don’t jive. I’d say that the movie wins by combining great performances, understated direction, good writing, and spectacular cinematography. It’s a modern day Western and, if McCarthy is to be believed, we live in a very bleak world. It’s not a shiny-happy movie or novel, but the characters are survivors.

2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday ~ No Country for Old Men

  1. Greg

    I don’t get to the theater much so did not experience the movie. Cormac McCarthy, I find, is too lax with punctuation and detail. I personally like the story to have the emphasis the author wanted instead of me having to provide some as a reader. I guess that makes me a passive reader and an active author.

    Reply

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