Saturday, May 09, 2009

Book: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Oh my goodness. As busy as everything is, I still got this book read in... 2 days? Yes, 2 days. That's holding it while cooking, propping it on the sill while doing dishes, taking it into the bathtub with me... Every odd moment I could find. I first heard about it on Cinematical, where they were talking about the movie production being made of it, starring Viggo Mortensen as a father whose only reason for living is to see his son survive in a blasted world.

The story picks up a few years after some huge cataclysm has basically ended life on earth as we know it. Whatever it was included a huge flash of light and massive fires, so one could conclude a nuclear war. Nearly all the animals are dead. There are no fish, no birds. The ecosystem simply has ended. There is a thick pall of ash over the earth so that very little daylight reaches the surface; as a result, all plants are dead and dry, and giant firestorms tear across the countryside till there is nothing left to burn. It's cold, and ashy rain falls nearly nonstop.

There is nothing to eat. And I mean nothing. There are a few human survivors who have lived on scavenging stores from homes and shops, but that only lasts so long. When all the foodstuffs are eaten, when all the animals that survived have been eaten, when nothing will grow, then the survivors starve. Or they turn on one another.

In this hell walk The Man and The Boy. The Boy has no memories of life before; his mother was pregnant with him when it all happened. When he was small, she checked out of their lives, saying there was no point in going on; the reader believes she took her own life. She left her son, her husband and a pistol. With 2 bullets. One for each of them. The Man walks the road, seeking a better place, constantly safekeeping the pistol to be used in case. In case of whatever happens. And when he is forced to use one bullet to protect his son from a marauder, then he is left with the horror of wondering: Can he use his hands to end his precious son's life if it comes to that?

Every human they meet on the road is an enemy until proven otherwise. There is no law, no morality except what The Man tells The Boy they carry within themselves. They are "the good guys." They remind one another of this constantly. In The Man's desperation, his morality centers on his son; in The Boy's innocence, his centers on being Good Guys who don't do what the Bad Guys do, who are kind, who have mercy.

As a Christian reading this book, I read it in terms of being thankful that God won't let us come to this, and also as a reminder that this is what we as humans boil down to: Our basic nature is not to rise to the occasion, to sacrifice for an unknown brother. Nope. We're completely selfish. Strip away all else and what we are are creatures who would eat one another if we were hungry enough. We're not good. There is no innate human goodness. Without God, we're just animals.

I realize I have made this book sound like a horrible ordeal to read. And it is. It's also beautiful. The Man's thoughts are lyrical. There is a rhythm to the prose of the book that almost makes you want to nod in time. McCarthy's habitual lack of normal punctuation takes some getting used to, but if you have ever read him before this won't phase you. Despite the wide open spaces of the book - as in, everything is burnt up, so there is nothing but wide open space - I found myself a little claustrophobic, as there is also nowhere to hide, and The Man and The Boy must constantly worry about who is watching them from afar, who is lying in wait, who is just over the next hill or stealing up from behind. This is a moody book. I would not call it a "dark" book despite the subject matter; it's a grey book, with flashes and glints of gold throughout.

I absolutely recommend it.

1 comment:

Shallowsister said...

Sounds like a good summer read. I've been wondering what to read this summer. Last year's A Song of Ice and Fire series is going to be hard to beat.

wv piall = the original Latin spelling of pile