Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The boy sat tottering. The man watched him that he not topple into the flames. He kicked holes in the sand for the boy's hips and shoulders where he would sleep and he sat holding him while he tousled his hair before the fire to dry it. All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.

Holy shit, this is one book that's never going to be made into a movie. The guy at the library told me this was the most depressing book I'd ever read, and he was right. Cormac McCarthy's critically acclaimed novel The Road is about a nameless man and his nameless son some years after some sort of disaster that has covered the skies of the earth in ash and killed everything but some humans, who survive by foraging for canned food and eating each other. The man and boy are trekking south because the world is getting colder, and they know that they can't survive another winter wherever they are.

The thing about The Road that makes it so different from other post-apocalyptic literature like Oryx and Crake is that it is extremely short on the specifics. Whereas Margaret Atwood composed a complex social history for her eradication of the human species, McCarthy--who before this book was best known for writing Westerns--never explains what caused the events that precede the book, though the description of it is similar to the depictions of nuclear winter that became popular in the 70's and 80's. It doesn't even give a name to its characters. That's because The Road isn't a book about our society and its problems; it's about the deeper character of the human spirit/mind and its will to survive in the bleakest of odds. The man and the boy fight to live, though daily they struggle with the question of why it is exactly they want to survive, and whether or not death might be better than the road. It is human nature, distilled to its essence; all the rest is "ceremonies" constructed "out of the air."

For some reason--probably in light of accusations that her choices are often too maudlin and shallow--Oprah just recently chose The Road for her book club. What kind of response this will cause I can't imagine, but the idea of middle-aged ladies reading this super-depressing novel en masse is delightful. I may even let my mother borrow my copy.

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