I forgot how sparse a writer Cormac McCarthy can be. The only other book of his that I’ve read to date is The Road, and I know from the Coen Brothers’ film adaptation that it’s a deceptively simple story, so I shouldn’t have, but my repeated attempts at reading Blood Meridian, a denser book than those I normally read, were freshest in my mind. I was, then, taken aback by how lacking in frills No Country for Old Men was. McCarthy tells it straight, not wasting time on any needless details, which is both its blessing and its curse.
On one hand, the story moves along at a brisk pace. It surpasses 300 pages, but it felt like more than half that length. On the other hand, I as a reader like my prose a little more purple. I like to see the author play with language and get descriptive. Workmanlike prose is one of the worst things a novel can have, in my opinion. I’m not saying you could call McCarthy’s prose in No Country for Old Men workmanlike, because the italicized portions told from the sheriff’s point of view are anything but, to give you one for instance, and Chigurh, though a disappointment after Javier Bardem’s stellar portrayal in the film, was still a force that helped keep my attention in the other parts.
What I am saying is that it was workmanlike enough that, unless it directly involved the sheriff or Chigurh, I found myself very nearly bored with what I was reading. To say it’s nothing more than a story about a man who makes off with some money that wasn’t his to have, bringing his world crashing down in on him as well as those around him, would be selling it short. Yet there were moments where that’s all I was taking away from it because Chigurh and the sheriff were the two things that set it apart, and so the story dragged when they weren’t directly involved.
In short, I feel much the same way about the book as I do about the movie. I have eyes only for Chigurh and everyone and everything else fades into a dull obscurity.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.