Monday, March 12, 2007

Notes on The Road

Late last night I reached the end of Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road. It was a terrible ending, filled with dread and death and a foreboding sense of facing the unknown in a harsh and violent world. But, somehow, it was hopeful, pointing toward a thin thread of humanity and compassion in the face of the end of the world.

I'd been anticipating this book greatly, looking forward to again entering a dark and awful world as created by one of my favorite living novelists. I hoped for a return to the nightmare worlds of Blood Meridian, and The Road did not disappoint.

This was different, of course, pitting a father and son against the apocalypse and its effects on their fellow men. Frightening, depressing, and often seemingly void of hope or good, this world no longer seems fit for habitation.

By the end it hadn't changed much--except maybe to get worse--but McCarthy finds in close human interaction that which he cannot in society. That there is hope anywhere in this novel, let alone at the end of it, is testament to both his abilities as a writer and his faith as a human.

I expect to return to this subject in the future, as this is a book that refuses to leave my mind. But for now, get hold of this and read it if you've got the patience and the stomach. It's not a terribly long read, but it's one that demands your attention and your willingness to go places most of us would rather not.

Update, 3.12.07 9pm
Perhaps the theme that held me so rapt with fear and interest and revulsion was the presence of a total innocent in this wild hell. The boy in the book, the son, had been born into the post-apocalypse. He had no memory of the world as it was. To him, all had always been destruction and fire.

There were no trees that did not burn and fall to the ground. There was no water free of the threat of poison. There were no other good guys. All other humans were to be feared, mistrusted, even killed.

That a horrible fate could befall this character was a constant possibility. The evils in this book are no trifles, and they loom around every turn along the road through the wasteland.

It is through the innocence of and threat to this character that the place of McCarthy's novel gains its huge ability to affect. It's not just a description of a charred landscape, it's the end of all future, the destruction of all the past. It's a lack of a hope that never existed.

But still, that's not the whole story. Somehow we find beauty and hope in this place, through these people. That's an amazing feat in itself.

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