As noted when I posted Suttree, I’ve been on a Cormac McCarthy reading kick – The Passenger and Stella Maris and The Orchard Keeper and Suttree and Child of God and Outer Dark and The Sunset Limited and now No Country for Old Men.
The Coen brothers movie based on this book is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times, so this book wasn’t high on my list of McCarthy books to read.
But it’s the last one the Brooklyn Public Library has that I haven’t read yet, so…
If you like the movie – and if you like books – you’ll probably like this book.
After a few watches of the movie I got the sense that the POV of the book / author is probably pretty close to that of the Sheriff. The book sheds quite a bit more light on this character, gets inside his head, gives you a bit of his backstory.
Notes and quotes…
1071 It’s a odd thing when you come to think about it. The opportunities for abuse are just about everwhere. There’s no requirements in the Texas State Constitution for bein a sheriff. Not a one. There is no such thing as a county law. You think about a job where you have pretty much the same authority as God and there is no requirements put upon you and you are charged with preservin nonexistent laws and you tell me if that’s peculiar or not. Because I say that it is. Does it work? Yes. Ninety percent of the time. It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.
1443 So we still aint found the last man, have we?
Bell didnt answer. He rose and stood looking out over the country.
It’s a mess, aint it Sheriff?
If it aint it’ll do till a mess gets here.
2461 She got her cigarettes out and lit one and turned her face and blew the smoke out into the room. Bell watched her. How do you think this is goin to end? he said.
I dont know. I dont know how nothin is goin to end. Do you?
I know how it aint.
Like livin happily ever after?
Somethin like that.
2727 She rose and went to the sideboard and unplugged the percolator and brought it to the table and poured his cup and sat down again. Just dont come home dead some evenin, she said. I wont put up with it.
I better not do it then.
3347 Loretta told me that she had heard on the radio about some percentage of the children in this country bein raised by their grandparents. I forget what it was. Pretty high, I thought. Parents wouldnt raise em. We talked about that. What we thought was that when the next generation come along and they dont want to raise their children neither then who is goin to do it? Their own parents will be the only grandparents around and they wouldnt even raise them. We didnt have a answer about that. On my better days I think that there is somethin I dont know or there is somethin that I’m leavin out. But them times are seldom. I wake up sometimes way in the night and I know as certain as death that there aint nothin short of the second comin of Christ that can slow this train. I dont know what is the use of me layin awake over it. But I do.
4193 I wont talk about the war neither. I was supposed to be a war hero and I lost a whole squad of men. Got decorated for it. They died and I got a medal. I dont even need to know what you think about that. There aint a day I dont remember it. Some boys I know come back they went on to school up at Austin on the GI Bill, they had hard things to say about their people. Some of em did. Called em a bunch of rednecks and all such as that. Didnt like their politics. Two generations in this country is a long time. You’re talkin about the early settlers. I used to tell em that havin your wife and children killed and scalped and gutted like fish has a tendency to make some people irritable but they didnt seem to know what I was talkin about. I think the sixties in this country sobered some of em up. I hope it did. I read in the papers here a while back some teachers come across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So I think about that. Because a lot of the time ever when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.
6201 Maybe. But you go into battle it’s a blood oath to look after the men with you and I dont know why I didnt. I wanted to. When you’re called on like that you have to make up your mind that you’ll live with the consequences. But you dont know what the consequences will be. You end up layin a lot of things at your own door that you didnt plan on. If I was supposed to die over there doin what I’d give my word to do then that’s what I should of done. You can tell it any way you want but that’s the way it is. I should of done it and I didnt. And some part of me has never quit wishin I could go back. And I cant. I didnt know you could steal your own life. And I didnt know that it would bring you no more benefit than about anything else you might steal. I think I done the best with it I knew how but it still wasnt mine. It never has been.
6529 And that was pretty much all that was said. I thanked him for his time. The next day was goin to be my last day in the office and I had a good deal to think about. I drove back to I-10 along the back roads. Drove down to Cherokee and took 501. I tried to put things in perspective but sometimes you’re just too close to it. It’s a life’s work to see yourself for what you really are and even then you might be wrong. And that is somethin I dont want to be wrong about. I’ve thought about why it was I wanted to be a lawman. There was always some part of me that wanted to be in charge. Pretty much insisted on it. Wanted people to listen to what I had to say. But there was a part of me too that just wanted to pull everbody back in the boat. If I’ve tried to cultivate anything it’s been that. I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come and I dont care what shape it takes. And whatever comes my guess is that it will have small power to sustain us. These old people I talk to, if you could of told em that there would be people on the streets of our Texas towns with green hair and bones in their noses speakin a language they couldnt even understand, well, they just flat out wouldnt of believed you. But what if you’d of told em it was their own grandchildren? Well, all of that is signs and wonders but it dont tell you how it got that way. And it dont tell you nothin about how it’s fixin to get, neither. Part of it was I always thought I could at least someway put things right and I guess I just dont feel that way no more. I dont know what I do feel like. I feel like them old people I was talkin about. Which aint goin to get better neither. I’m bein asked to stand for somethin that I dont have the same belief in it I once did. Asked to believe in somethin I might not hold with the way I once did. That’s the problem. I failed at it even when I did. Now I’ve seen it held to the light. Seen any number of believers fall away. I’ve been forced to look at it again and I’ve been forced to look at myself. For better or for worse I do not know. I dont know that I would even advise you to throw in with me, and I never had them sorts of doubts before. If I’m wiser in the ways of the world it come at a price. Pretty good price too. When I told her I was quittin she at first didnt take me to mean it literally but I told her I did so mean it. I told her I hoped the people of this county would have better sense than to even vote for me. I told her I didnt feel right takin their money. She said well you dont mean that and I told her I meant it ever word. We’re six thousand dollars in debt over this job too and I dont know what I’m goin to do about that either. Well we just set there for a time. I didnt think it would upset her like it done. Finally I just said: Loretta, I cant do it no more. And she smiled and she said: You aim to quit while you’re ahead? And I said no mam I just aim to quit. I aint ahead by a damn sight. I never will be.
- Read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy.