McCarthy, Cormac: No Country for Old Men and the New West

With NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Joel and Ethan Coen are matched up with an artist who is considered at once one of the most entertaining and important storytellers of our times: Cormac McCarthy.

Once dubbed the Shakespeare of the West, McCarthy has become the resonant voice of a land in rapid transition. Throughout his ten novels, McCarthys unforgettable characters often outcast, broken people trying to hang on to a sense of honor and freedom no longer celebrated in contemporary America — have captivated the imaginations of millions of readers. He writes about a way of life, an entire way of being, coming to an end in modern times, a theme that comes tumbling to fore in his ninth novel, No Country For Old Men, as it never has before, via a searing, fast-paced tale of crime and consequences on the Texas-Mexico border in 1980.

Following the acclaim for No Country For Old Men, McCarthy did a turn-about for his tenth and most recent novel, turning to a setting even more stark and Biblical than the New West a post-apocalyptic world of ash and devastation in which a father and son struggle for survival. Once again, with The Road, McCarthys work was hailed as a savagely beautiful masterpiece and garnered the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

No Country For Old Men may feature some of McCarthys most clipped prose and fiercest action but, like all of his novels, it explores not only the literal border between Texas and Mexico but the metaphorical territory where moral integrity and honorable justice clash with apathy and violence. Writing in The Guardian, the lauded author Annie Proulx noted that McCarthy had transformed a standard good-guy-bad-guy plot into serious literature. In the Chicago Tribune, Alan Cheuse observed that, more than any of McCarthys previous stories, the novel offers an unexpected and enormously powerful testament of deep human feeling and hope in the face of hopelessness.

No Country For Old Men returned McCarthy to the West Texas setting of his celebrated Border Trilogy, a series of three linked novels of mythic high adventure set in Texas and Mexican border towns including: All The Pretty Horses, which itself became a film directed by Billy Bob Thornton; The Crossing, the story of a young journeyer to Mexico who attempts to preserve the life of a she-wolf, and Cities on the Plain, which brought the characters of the two previous stories together later in life.

With The Border Trilogy, McCarthy established his reputation for lyrically evoking the confounding essence of the New American West a place still majestic and raw, but where souls have been hobbled by the loss of values and heroes.

Throughout all of McCarthys novels which also include the apocalyptic Civil War story Blood Meridian; and Suttree, a Faulknerian tale set in 1950s rural Tennessee — landscape has been one his most intriguing major characters, lending each of his stories an astonishing visual impact in the reading alone. He uses the wildness and desolateness of the badlands terrain and its contrasting terror and beauty to mirror what his characters are experiencing and add new layers to the storytelling. In No Country For Old Men, the border itself, in the form of the Rio Grande, becomes a metaphorical crossroads as characters move from one side to the other in the heat of the dizzying chase.