Set along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, No Country for Old Men is a harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies.
With a title that makes a statement about Texas itself, McCarthy offers up a vision of awful power and waning glory, like a tale told by a hermit emerging from the desert, a biblical Western from a cactus-pricked Ancient Mariner … Through squinted eyes this novel can be seen as a morality tale nestled within a fast-paced and compelling crime saga. The narrative seethes with a rhetorical thrust that likens to Dickens' anger at the poverty of England in Bleak House, only here McCarthy rails against the drug trade that is ruining the Texas-Mexico borderland … Like these doomed cowboys, McCarthy cannot turn away from the horror he sees around him. His voice is hoarse, his visions are often nightmares. In No Country for Old Men he has conjured up a heated story that brands the reader's mind as if seared by a knife heated upon campfire flames.
A darting movie-ready narrative rips along like hell on wheels because it has no desire to break new ground, only to burn rubber on hard-packed old ground, thereby packing it down harder … At times, the whole novel borders on caricature, so unremittingly hard-boiled that it threatens to turn to steam … McCarthy's dialogue is like this: every question sets up a one-two punch, and most of the sparring partners sound alike … Such sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if McCarthy didn't keep it moving faster than the reader can pause to think about it. He's a whiz with the joystick, a master-level gamer who changes screens and situations every few pages.
McCarthy is continent here, which is in keeping with the spirit of the novel. Everything is tight, reduced, simple, and very violent … The book gestures not toward any recognizable reality but merely toward the narrative codes already established by pulp thrillers and action films. The story is itself cinematically familiar … The problem with a novel like No Country for Old Men is that it cannot give violence any depth, context, or even reality. The artificial theatre of the writing makes the violence routine and showy. And McCarthy’s idea—his novelistic picture—of life’s evil is limited, and literal: it is only ever of physical violence … His myth of eternal violence asserts, in effect, that rebellion is pointless because this is how it will always be. Instead of suffering, there is represented violence; instead of struggle, death; instead of lament, blood.