Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On The Road

I usually avoid even thinking about what might happen if and when the world comes to an end. But Cormac McCarthy puts it in your face as your read “The Road,” our next book club selection. I could hardly choose to opt out of reading it since it is my husband’s pick.

I found myself being angry with the author for the first third of the book. He hadn’t given us the background information about what left the father and his young son pushing a grocery cart down a road where everything around them was dead or dying. It didn’t explain how they got water to drink. The time frame for the few glimpses of the past didn’t make sense.

When I complained, my husband simply said, “You’re missing the point.”

So I trudged on down the road with them, gradually coming into their world and just accepting whatever lay in the past. I learned to fear the “bad guys” every bit as much as they did. I was even ready to shoot the old revolver they carried at anyone who dared to attack them. The would-be attackers were the marauding bands of thugs, who represented the remainder of humanity and who seemed heavily into cannibalism.

The dialog between the father and son, as they manage to stay just ahead of death, is what is important. They are the “good guys” who are carrying the fire. The boy himself embodies all that was ever good in the world. He is the one who wants to help the few struggling souls they meet. He even offers to share his dwindling food with a dog they encounter.

But he sees things on the road that no human should ever have to see – charred corpses everywhere who succumbed to ravaging fires, the headless body of a baby on a spit over a fire, and souls who are half dead.

Their goal is to make it to the coast, which they do, only to find layers of ash and water that is no longer blue and alive with anything. They manage to survive only by occasionally coming across an abandoned house or fallout shelter that still contains canned goods and clothes. The question looms as to what will happen when those such places are exhausted.

But this is a book that doesn’t talk about the future. The present is questionable enough and the past exists only in their dreams.

From the outset, it is obvious that the father is sick and with every day his condition worsens. He still manages to do some pretty ingenious things in the interim that allow him and the boy to survive. It is no surprise when he fails to wake up one morning after they have reached the coast.

McCarthy leaves the boy in the hands of what appears to be a family. There is no indication of how they are existing in a world so destroyed, but it is clear that they don’t eat their children, so we breathe a sigh of relief as the boy leaves his dead father covered with a blanket and goes off with the man.

Consistent with the denuded landscape and the burned nameless cities and the road that is never identified, the people in this book have no names. The protagonists are simply called the man and the boy. The few others are equally anonymous.

At the end of the book, I shuddered and looked around me to make sure my world was still quite alive. I couldn’t even begin to think about what I might do if the world ever reached such a state.

I must have reread the last paragraph of the book 10 times and I still couldn’t make sense of it. If you read the book and have some insight into its meaning, please leave me a comment.

All in all, a good if sobering read that makes life truly beautiful and precious.


Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Yes, books like that make us shake our heads with gratitude for the "now" we should be savouring now without complaint!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I haven't read any Cormac McCarthy. Do you recommend it? Does it serve as a warning about current behavior or just a reminder to appreciate what we have?

1:59 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I am looking forward to reading this. McCarthy's border trilogy ("All the Pretty Horses," "The Crossing," "Cities of the Plain") was stunning and very influential to me as a writer.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- Yes, life is VERY good!

Kristin -- I was so repulsed by his Blood Meridian that I couldn't even finish it, and that is rare for me. He has this way of not letting you escape the reality of a situation that is very powerful. He paints pictures that are indelibly etched on your memory. It's not a book that preaches warning or reminder, but simply a meaningful dialog between a father and his son in the face of a world that is stripped of beauty and promise. You should definitely read it.

Matt -- I find some interesting similarities between this book and some of Margaret Atwood's writings. I will look forward to your reaction to The Road when you read it.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like the kind of stories I like to read. A story about people dissociated from any semblence of reality. Although, it sounds like a pretty typical apocalyptic plot line.

12:40 PM  
Blogger steve said...

At the suggestion of an old friend, I have had "Blood Meridian", a western written by Cormac in 1985, on my desk for about a year. My freind said it would rock my world. I haven't touched it yet but maybe I shall, barb, maybe I shall.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- I know this sounds uncanny, but I can picture you as the father in this story. You would probably be such as resourceful as he was.

Steve -- If you get through Blood Meridian, let me know. Maybe I will try it again.

7:52 PM  

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