Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Problems with Plot: No Country For Old Men

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men certainly doesn’t let the reader down in several crucial areas of novel construction. Tone, setting, character, are impeccably drawn.  McCarthy has a unique way of situating his characters in a time and place, so much so that pulling them out of it would not only be absurd, but stupid.  Sheriff Bell’s soliloquies are an excellent example.  From them, the novel gets much of its moral,temporal and local tone.  Sheriff Bell gets to comment on the general action, providing a mooring frame for the reader.  It really couldn’t have been done any better.

If the novel slips anywhere, it is on the level of plot, and to a lesser degree, character motivation.  Why do the bodies of the drug dealers stay so long out in the desert, and why must be return to them three times?  Why does Carson Wells essentially hand himself over to Chigurh?  Why does the novel turn away from Moss’ killing, smothering it in remembrances and the chatter of other characters? 

These are small flaws, perhaps, but they do mar this novel.  They prevent No Country from Old Men from being a great novel; they knock it down a peg to the ranks of the very good novel.

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