Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Then they set out along the blacktop in the gun-metal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire. 

Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave. 

Other Fifty Bookers Reviews of The Road

*Where Chris says it will never be made into a movie, lolz (2007)
*Where Brook says she will need a McCarthy break (2009)
*Where Carlton doesn't see what all the fuss is about (2010)
*Where Brent compares it to No Country for Old Men (2013)

I'm pretty late to the party, but for a reason - I saw the movie not realizing that it was a book; once I found out I decided to wait a few years so the more dramatic and terrible scenes were out of my head. The cruelty of humanity scenes definitely stayed in my mind, but the ending was actually fuzzy. There's not too much to say about the book: there's a man, there's a boy, there's an apocalypse. It won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and was turned into a movie. It is grey, grey, grey. 

The Road is an incredibly difficult book for a few reasons. 

First, I think if I were a parent, I wouldn't be able to read this novel. As a non-parent I am tormented by the choices that are being made, by the care that's being provided, by the questions that are being asked. I can't imagine picking up this up as a parent and finishing it. 

Second, there aren't any answers. The story details the daily life of a father and son in some kind of post-apocalyptical world, and this world is never explained. Cormac McCarthy counters that it doesn't matter, but if you are a reader who needs answers and explanations...you will not get them. I like knowing the motivation of why the world is the way it is, but I suppose McCarthy is right to the extent that it doesn't matter. So what if it's global warming or volcano or nuclear disaster? In any of those cases the reaction can only be "ok...so what do we do now?"

Third, like everything else in this text, the point of view is maddeningly elusive. It begins with SUCH an objective third person(1) that when it occasionally switches to second (2) or first (3) it's startling and unsettling. It happens only a handful of times in the novel, but each time stands out SO much that I'm ready to start scouring the academic parts of the internet.  

(1) When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him...His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.
(2) Like the great pendulum in its rotunda scribing through the long day movements of the universe of which you may say it knows nothing and yet know it must.
(3) He lay listening to the water drip in the woods...If only my heart were stone.

It is not an overstatement to say that it is one of the most depressing books of all time. Even the most depressing books (The Bluest Eye, for example) has some kind of redemption - even if it's not the character we want getting what is owed to them, someone survives, someone makes it, someone gets SOMETHING out of the shit that is handed to them. I don't think it's a spoiler alert to say that a Pulitzer Prize novel doesn't end with unicorns eating rainbow burritos. 

I went to a brilliant conference on teaching Holocaust literature, and one session was about how to handle the idiot kids who say things like, "Why didn't the Jews do x, y, or z? I would have." We were told real stories to share with students at the beginning to show kids: this was not a time of making better choices, this was a time of making IMPOSSIBLE choices that needed to be made anyway. This book, featuring a holocaust of humanity, is that impossible choice. What is the point of surviving? How do you kill yourself when you were 'lucky' enough to survive? What is the point of your child surviving in this ugly world that is left? How do you kill your child to spare them?

I did not, at any point, entertain the idea of what I would do if I were in The Man's place or The Boy's place. How do you turn to cannibalism? How do you let yourself and your child starve to death? It's pointless to play Let's Pretend because no one knows deep inside what their actions would be. So we watch theirs, from a distance, like the narrator, and I think it's set up in such a way that it's almost impossible to pass judgement. 

If you're in the mood to kind of hate everyone forever, this is the book for you. It's not a good time, it's not satisfying, it's not beautiful. It is GOOD in the way that good medicine is GOOD for you even if you hate every moment. I finished the novel in two days, not because it was so compelling, but because I knew I couldn't leave it unfinished and I wanted it over as quickly as possible. 

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Well that's egg on MY face