Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I've finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a somber meditation on the interlaced natures of hope and hopelessness. These days I don't read a lot of fiction, and I've never raced to buy a novel featured on Oprah's Book Club. But this tale of a father and son wandering a post-apocolyptic landscape piqued my attention. Only recently did I learn that The Road won a Pulitzer Prize.

The book is cryptic, nearly poetic in its depiction of a world torn asunder by some unnamed cataclysm. Terse descriptions of landscape, survival strategy, and horror weave among dreamily lyrical tones of despair, memory, and even some traces of optimism. Strange and almost mystical words dart into the lines of prose, cyphers that seem hardly to need the aid of a dictionary, their choices suggesting some secret onomatopoeia.

Throughout the tale, we discover clues hidden even from the protagonists, a growing sense of what happened and the hanging gloom that no one can really understand the world through which they pass. All that the father in this story (shorn of numerous niceties of spelling and punctuation) knows for sure is this:
The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions. He got up and went to the window. What is it? [his wife] said. He didnt answer. He went into the bathroom and threw the lightswitch but the power was already gone. A dull rose glow in the windowglass. He dropped to one knee and raised the level to stop the tub and then turned on both taps as far as they would go. She was standing in the doorway in her nighwear, clutching the jamb, cradling her belly in one hand. What is it? she said. What is happening?
    I dont know.
    Why are you taking a bath?
    I'm not. (p. 45)
The novel is sad, numbing, slow, and occasionally shocking. I can't say that one garners any particular pleasure from reading it. But I can tell you one thing. Read beyond the first few pages and try to abandon this journey thereafter. It won't be easy.

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