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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Department of Book Reports 56: Academy Awards Edition

I’ve been reading a lot of history books recently, so I decided to take a break from non-fiction and read a novel. It has also been a long while since I’ve read Cormac McCarthy (I read and admired All the Pretty Horses several years ago) and I decided to read his novel previous to his most recent, The Road, No Country for Old Men (Vintage $14.00). The title is taken from William Butler Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium. What a ride it is.

The plot is straight-forward. A hunter, Llewellyn Moss stumbles across a dope-deal gone bad in the desert borderlands. Most of the dealers are dead, or dying. Moss finds a satchel with two million dollars and a lot of heroin. Moss takes the money (and leaves the heroin); the other dealers discover who he is and set out after him. Moving from town to town, Moss tries to stay ahead of them, especially one persistent man Anton Chigurh who is especially relentless in trying to recover the money. In the meantime, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell tries to track Moss (and Moss’s wife) down in order to save their lives. Mayhem ensues.

The bloodletting is a dominant feature of the novel. But so is the writing. McCarthy has a fine knack of understanding and developing his characters. His ear for dialogue is superb. There is not a dull word, phrase, sentence or paragraph in this book. Llewellyn Moss is a smart man, but not smart enough. In Anton Chigurh we have the most fascinating sociopath in fiction since Hannibal Lecter. Sheriff Bell is aging, knows he’s aging, and discovers he is no longer capable of carrying out his personal mission of protecting the people under his charge. The Texas-Mexico border has become an area of such chaos and violence that, for someone like him, it is indeed is no country for old men.

The Academy Awards are this weekend, and, yes, I know that the Coen Brothers have adapted the book, and are nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Direction. I haven’t seen the movie. In reading the book, and knowing and liking their work, I can see why they were attracted to the subject matter. It is my understanding from reading the IMDB article on the movie that the adaptation is very faithful, nearly scene for scene from the book, and the McCarthy dialogue is left in tact. If so, that is a good thing. I don’t see how it can be improved upon.

A number of this year’s Oscar nominees are also based on books. They include Ian McEwan’s Atonement (Anchor $6.99); There Will Be Blood, based in part on an old Upton Sinclair novel, Oil (Penguin $15.00); Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen (HarperCollins $7.99); George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War (Grove $14.95); Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (Anchor $13.95); American Gangster by Mark Jacobson (Grove $14.00); and the French film Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Vintage $12.95). All these books, including No Country for Old Men, are available at Jackson Street Books and fine Independent Bookstores everywhere!
(we love Grove Books, but they don't have a "user-friendly" website.)

democommie™™™™®© is once again upset that the Academy has neglected his many fine performances with no nominations.

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