Monday, June 11, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is one of my favorite books. I finished No Country for Old Men in one night because I could not stop reading it. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of his writing.

Then Oprah selected this for her book club. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Oprah, though not always of her show. (My husband cheated with my best friend – wtf? I mean, seriously.) Then I read an interview with Trent Reznor, I believe it was in Kerrang. They asked him how he was spending his downtime on the tour, being that he doesn’t drink and party anymore. He said he reads and the last book he read was The Road. (As if I don’t already adore Trent Reznor, do you have idea how much sexier he becomes simply by talking about books?) Either that same day or the next, The Road was given the Pulitzer Prize. Oprah, Trent, Pulitzer – this book had a lot of things working in its favor, along with the fact that I’m already a fan of McCarthy’s writing. I’d been on the waiting list for the book for a few weeks, probably since Oprah selected the book, but that afternoon, the day I found out it won the Pulitzer, I went and bought a copy.

I found it to be written in the same “I can’t put this down” manner. I wonder though if that’s partly because there aren’t any chapter breaks, never a real stopping point. The style is a sort of stream of conscious, flowing from one scene to the next. Of course, if I didn’t find the story interesting, I probably wouldn’t care if there were any official breaks.

By now, I guess most people know the basic premise of the story: a man and his son, walking along the road in a grey, ash covered world that has, for all intents and purposes, ended. They have a shopping cart and a few possessions. They are constantly seeking food and shelter in the remnants of the world.

The book is written in such a way that the reader is placed on the road with these two, experiencing their struggle as they walk towards uncertainty. Maybe that’s why I felt like I couldn’t stop reading this, I needed to keep going. Along the path, they encounter others who have been left behind, dying, starving, insane or marauding.

The father claims he has to keep moving for his son, he has to stay alive because as long as his son is alive, there must be a god.

There’s no explanation as to what happened in the world. I got the impression, from his descriptions of the first signs of trouble that a bomb hit. A catastrophe of some sort took place that destroyed the earth, blocked the sun and made even the oceans turn grey. Infrastructure collapsed and anarchy ensued. The survivors were left to fend for themselves.

The story is chilling, because I think of the incompetence of our government, their inability to mobilize in the event of disaster, the shambles of the current quagmire in the middle east and I realize that in case of disaster we would be very much on our own.

But the predominant thought that kept going through my head was “why would someone want to survive in these conditions?” I don’t have much of a survivalist instinct, at least not when it involves being only one of a handful of people left living in the world.

For example, I’ve never understood people who stock up on gas masks and tape for their windows in preparation for a biological disaster. If the whole world is going to fall apart, I would like to go with it. I have no desire to live in a world that’s been destroyed. Why would you want to be alive inside your house while everything around you went up in flames. Eventually you would have to leave the confines of your home and deal with the horror. I suspect I have different point of view because I don’t have a family. But I can’t imagine wanting my child to have that sort of life either. Why work so hard to keep the child alive when there is nothing left?

While I assume the intent is that this is a story of hope and love, I could never get past the idea that their struggle was one of profound false hope.

Still, it’s very well written. However, there are some truly gruesome scenes in this story. I supposed that is to be expected because, well, it is sort of a story about the end of the world. I was worried because I read most of this late at night while staying at my sister’s house and was concerned that it would give me nightmares. No nightmares, at least none that stayed with me. It does make you think though. A lot of, “what would I do?” No water, no electricity, no fuel, no government. I wouldn’t start walking with no destination in mind. I guess I’d just sit at home and hope the end came quickly.

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