Cannot Hear The Faulkner

This very brief review originally ran on the 16th of January, 2006, at Eyewear. I am reprinting it now, with the news that the great Coen brothers have made a film version, which went home from Cannes empty-handed, surprising some critics, and will be on general release later this year. It may well be one of the major American films of 2007.


Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men is a fascinating blend of Faulkner and Jim Thompson, as if Faulkner had written noir for Hollywood - hold on a minute, he did...

The postponed apocalypse at the end keeps evil at bay but circling, and good down but not out, and is at once dramatically unsatisfying and theologically correct. With nary a proper love scene in site, the terrifying professionalism of gun technology and terminology is displayed in all its well-oiled efficiency, as the author shows us a world by, and for, men on a mission to take life with extreme dispassion (Anton Chigurh, Lecter-like sociopath versus the Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, who could almost be anyman).

The over-arching narrative becomes clear (like the serious flip-side to the opening montage sequence in Forrest Gump, where all his relatives are seen dying in great military battles): history is a series of conflicts, between violent men, some who are more good than others, though none are less than imperfect.

The thin edge of things, it becomes clear, rides on the fact some of us are slightly more humane and thoughtful than others, and that vital, fragile membrane of decency may carry us through - then again, it may be torn to tatters in a hail of sub-machine gun fire. A great and horrible book, whose ugly prose is also its elan vital - the flow is the force is the form - and no one closes it without having come through slaughter.
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