Saturday, April 28, 2007

#29 - The Road

Lavish praise aside, Cormac McCarthy's novel felt like a fitting book to read on the cold mornings and early evenings on the way to and from work last week. A bone-chilling story of a man and his son walking the road south in post-apocalyptic America, The Road contains McCarthy's trademark sparse yet rich prose, as well as fitting setting for the this-close-to-the-edge world we inhabit today.

This book scared me. Honestly terrified me. Akin to that feeling I had when in grade school we watched The Day After (seriously, my brother and I both had nightmares after that miniseries, I think we even might have slept in the same bed a couple nights because were were both terrified), my mind could not help but picture the bleak landscape, the frightening feeling of being alone in a world that no longer exists in any way, shape or form like the one I walk out in every day. As I read the novel, it was impossible not to think of what I would do in a similar situation. Would I prepare? How would I prepare? Or would I just feel like my time had come, and let it? Who knows. And I don't think my heart could handle an answer.

Regardless of my own terror, I hopelessly enjoyed the novel. I run hot and cold with McCarthy: I count All the Pretty Horses among one of my all-time favourite American books, right up there with On the Road and Beloved. But so much of his work I just can't read (Blood Meridian); it's too violent, too bloody, despite its obvious literary merit. But this book I couldn't put down, the simple, aching sentences, devoid of complex punctuation and lack of contractual apostrophes pulls you along, page upon page, like the journey the two main characters take themselves, slowly, urgently, foot after foot.

So much of the core skill of McCarthy's talent lies in separating his heroes from society in general. The father and the boy in The Road, while some of the few remaining human beings on Earth, don't fall into the same category as the rogue cannibals they encounter along the way. They 'carry the fire,' refuse to eat their fellow man, woman or child, and are moving south to be closer to the warmth, convinced that there will still be some form of society there to welcome them once they arrive.

A novel as much about survival as it is about the familial relationship between the man and his boy, there are so many elements of The Road that feel so close to the truth, so near to what life would be like should the world as we know it disappear, that it's not unlike Children of Men. What I mean is that it's just so close to being real and it's in that almost-reality that the terror sets in. Even when the novel reveals obvious parallels to Beckett that I can recognize, my overwhelming panic never disappears, even as I approached the last sentence of the last paragraph on the last page.

I hesitate to use words like 'masterpiece' and 'brilliant' for fear of hyperbole, but it's hard not to think in those terms when you finish this book. You ache for their survival toward the end, want to do everything in your power to protect the feeling of love that prospers between the father and his son, and cherish the fact that these very good, very human traits manage to abound in a world covered with ash, dead trees and never-ending fire.

They went through the last of the cars and then walked up the track to the locomotive and climbed up to the catwalk. Rust and scaling paint. They pushed into the cab and he blew away the ash from the engineer's seat and put the boy at the controls. The controls were very simple. Little to do but push the throttle lever forward. He made train noises and diesel horn noises but he wasnt sure what these might mean to the boy. After a while they just looked out through the silted glass to where the track curved away in the waste of weeds. If they saw different worlds what they knew was the same. That the train would sit there slowly decomposing for all eternity and that no train would ever run again.


Beth said...

I bought this book for my youngest for his birthday - and I can't wait to read it!

Kerry said...

What a great review. Did you that even with all the hype, only now has my interest been piqued? You are more effective than Oprah!