Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.
My seniors are reading The Road in English class, and while we have a history of reading some less than uplifting titles with them (Handmaids Tale! Night! Macbeth!), this one is certainly hard to get through. The Road takes places somewhere on the East coast in a nuclear winter that has wiped out most of humanity along with all plant and animal life. A man and his son are trying to make their way to the coast, along a road studded with danger and completely devoid of anything remotely resembling sustenance.

It's McCarthy, so there are gorgeous descriptions of desolation, but more surprising is the heart-wrenchingly tender dialogue; it would be misleading to say this is a book about parenting, but the father-son relationship in this book is so beautiful that it almost outshines the darkness. Almost.
In a pocket of his knapsack he'd found a last half packet of cocoa and he fixed it for the boy and then poured his own cup with hot water and sat blowing at the rim.
You promised not to do that, the boy said.
You know what, Pop.
He poured the hot water back into the pan and took the boy's cup and poured some of the cocoa into his own and then handed it back.
I have to watch you all the time, they boy said.
I know.
If you break little promises, you'll break big ones. That's what you said.
I know. But I won't. 
Desperation has brought out the "calculating reptile brain" in everyone else--pushing them to give up or become completely self serving. These two have managed to keep each other alive, hopeful, sane; they each look out more for the other than they do for themselves. I like to think that I would do the same, but the book forces you to wonder how long you would be able to hold out. It also makes you wonder how long you would last with your complete lack of survival skills and utter reliance on the internet for information. Would I give up sooner because I'm a woman, susceptible to rape, less physically powerful? Would I die sooner because I can't see farther than three feet without my (very breakable) glasses? Would I eat an enemy? A stranger?  My dog? My students had a field day with the eating people side of things (I left for five minutes and came back to find them discussing with my co-teacher who in the class they would eat first), but the question of what most people would do and whether or not you are most people is the most haunting part of the whole novel.

I felt physically sick a few times while reading this; McCarthy doesn't shy away from graphic violence or deeply disturbing scenarios, but the father and son do their job as "carriers of the light" and pull you through. It wasn't light reading by any means, but it wasn't as dark as I expected either.


Randy said...

I have always been puzzled by the end of this novel. Do you think it means something that as soon as the boy loses his father, he immediately is found by another (friendly) family? If it's just a coincidence, it's seems like too much of a coincidence to pass the laugh test.

But if it means something, I've never been able to come up with an answer for what.

Chloe Pinkerton said...

I don't know that it's any more absurd than all the other good luck they have throughout the book, and it drives the point home that everyone doesn't suck quite as much as we think they do, but it is a little hard to swallow. I think I was so sad by the end that I was okay with it and didn't think about it as much as I should have...

Christopher said...

I'd eat your dog.