No Country for Old Men
Thoughts on Cormac McCarthy’s Famous Novel
Cormac McCarthy—born 1933, age 89, still living—is one of those wildly famous literary authors who I’ve heard writers yap about for years yet have only read twice. (His highly popular post-apocalypse novel The Road and the 1973 novel, Child of God.) Everyone knows the main titles: The Road; Blood Meridian; No Country for Old Men; etc. Born in Rhode Island but raised in Tennessee, he published his first novel at age 32, in 1965.
McCarthy is one of those rare artists who, like younger author Jonathan Franzen, seem to be able to wield the creative sword of being both literary and plot-driven and suspenseful. Not that these two writers are anywhere near the “only” authors to do this, of course. But it’s much less common. Usually you’ve got an author like Stephen King, who is genuinely deep and insightful in his way, but who ultimately mainly writes powerful stories for entertainment. (Nothing at all wrong with that. No judgment here.) Or you’ve got the flip side of the coin: Susan Sontag, say, in the sixties, or Ottessa Moshfegh now, both fantastic authors but highly literary and without (often) much plot or suspense. *(A good contemporary refutation to this might be Emma Cline’s 2016 literary novel, also brimming with plot and suspense, The Girls, a novelization about the Manson girls in the sixties.)
But, similar to my favorite 19th century Russian author, Dostoevsky, McCarthy has been able to pump out a plethora of prose which is not only plot-driven and incredibly suspenseful (and full of juicy cliff-hangers), but also spectacularly “literary,” meaning full of metaphor and symbolism and deeper, under-the-surface meaning.