Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Rich dreams now that he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world. The cold drove him forth to mend the fire. Memory of her crossing the lawn toward the house in the early morning in a thin rose gown that clung to her breasts. He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.

While plenty of my more bookish friends have recommended that I check out Cormac McCarthy's writing, the blurbs on the back covers of novels like Blood Meridian and No Country For Old Men have kept me away. I was gifted The Road by my boyfriend over Christmas, however, and settled in with McCarthy on the couch while Jamie battled through his own post-apocalyptic world in Fall Out Three.

The Road is a bleak narrative that follows a father and son through an austere, post-apocalyptic landscape to the ocean where they have gone to escape the cold that they know will eventually contribute to their impending deaths. The road that they travel on is dangerous territory where no one can be trusted and even fragile-looking old men are probably bait to lure you in for an ambush. Our two men characters say that they are "the good guys" and that they are "carrying the fire"--hanging on to human decency the best they can when all the father's motivation to do so has dried up, with the one strong exception being salvaging his son from the spiritual wreckage. The one thing that is perhaps more frightening than the idea of turning to cannibalism for survival or pursuing survival when death is more appealing, is the idea of raising a child and trying to preserve their innocence in the middle of a place that can be described as hellish at best. We know very little of the father's life before the terror started because he knows that to tell his son about the way things were before would be to tell him at the same time about what he will never know or experience. After all, a good day for the son is where they find canned peaches and don't have to starve that day or they see a living dog. It would be almost cruel to tell him about a good day when the world was normal when there are days he has to crouch in hiding with a gun waiting to see whether or not he will have to kill himself to keep from anyone else doing the same job.

While I understand the literary significance of McCarthy's novel and the magnitude of his talent, I probably won't be picking up another one of his books for some time. I think that it is important that we all acknowledge our inner darkness and I haven't met anyone interesting that wasn't just a little sick and twisted in their own right, but McCarthy is too disturbing for me to revisit without time away, I think. I kept waiting for that moment that would liberate the father and son from their situation, even if only for a while, but that moment never really came.

If we're going to be honest here, I'm also a little frustrated with the complete lack of information about his personal life on the internet besides the bare bones. Maybe it's voyeuristic but I like to know about the authors I read so I can have some frame of reference for why so many of them seem so tormented. I guess that goes back to being sick and twisted, though.


Amanda said...

I didn't like this book either, though to be honest, I gave it up after 50 or so pages because I was just bored out of my head and I heard that some upcoming stuff might be too unpleasant for me to deal with. I hear a lot of people talk about how good it is, but I'm not interested in going back to it.

Brooke said...

I didn't dislike it exactly but I didn't like it, either.
I'm glad to know I'm not the only one refraining from raving.

Nihil Novum said...

If you think The Road is too dark, you're probably not going to like any of his other stuff either. Maybe All the Pretty Horses.

Christopher said...

I love this book but I understand why people wouldn't enjoy it. What I don't understand is why Oprah likes it.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book- and I'm not normally such a fan of bleak novels.
I know what you mean about hoping they'd be lifted out of their situation though, but knowing that that was a futile, crazy wish really had an effect on me. I think it's a classic!