>No Country for Old Men

>by Cormac McCarthy

This is one of the most violent books I have ever read, including several of McCarthy’s earlier novels. For most of the book, that seems to be the point–drugs are involved and people get killed and there is one particular psychopath responsible for most, but not all, of the mayhem. People, some more or less innocent, get in the way despite Sheriff Bell’s efforts to stop the bleeding. Until Bell starts examining what his life is all about (in the last 50 pages of the book), and what the country (his county specifically, but America more broadly) has come to, with bad manners and poor discipline giving way to drug abuse and bloodbaths, the blood and violence seem to be the only point. It isn’t.

Bell is a decorated WW II veteran who has lived a long time with the belief that he didn’t deserve the bronze star he was awarded for action in Germany. He is trying now to stop Chigurh, a cold-blooded killer who is responsible for more deaths than Bell can count. His failures are intertwined, in his mind. If he had the courage, the trouble would stay out of his county; if he had had the courage, he might have saved his buddies in the war. But he doesn’t really believe that, it seems to me. He recognizes how far we’ve sunk, and that there is no one in control.

It seems to me, given the war metaphors and literal references–one of the victims of Chigurh’s killing spree is a Vietnam veteran–that the drug war might not be the only war McCarthy is talking about. Bloodbaths are almost always built on lies; someone is accumulating obscene wealth; good men are dying. It sounds a lot like the present war to me.

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