The Western has changed. Louis L’amour and Zane Grey’s rugged heroes have aged, becoming cynical old men and questionable moral figures. Instead of overcoming wild unknowns, the modern Western is often more about the wild unknown in the hearts of men. No one represents this modern trend better than Cormac McCarthy and his novel No Country for Old Men.
No Country for Old Men doesn’t take place in the days of the Wild West, but in the 1980s. It follows an average man, Llewelyn Moss, who discovers a stash of millions of dollars in the bloody aftermath of a drug-related shootout. Taking the money ends up making Moss the target for a hauntingly amoral hitman.
No Country for Old Men is a devastatingly somber story about normal men and human darkness. McCarthy’s minimal style of narration combined with the apocalyptic tone of the story as a whole makes for an incredibly engrossing (and demanding) read. It’s the sort of book that belongs alongside Heart of Darkness or All Quiet on the Western Front, instead of Riders of the Purple Sage. Once you put it down, it still follows you, making you question, wonder, and doubt what you know about humanity. Including your own.
At the heart of No Country for Old Men is a simple story of one man struggling against a titanic force of darkness. But this struggle takes the characters and the reader to the very edge of hopelessness. Whether the characters tumble over that edge or not is for the reader to decide. Just know that, if you do plan to read No Country for Old Men, be ready. It may not be long, but it is heavy. It’s as heavy as can be.