Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Road

The Road (Oprah's Book Club)
By Cormac McCarthy

In this book Cormac Mccarthy has given us a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic world none of us want to see or visit or even think about it. It is desolate, singulatory, stark, bleak; all of these words and more are needed to describe a world after a nuclear explosion. We are left to imagine the events, the place, and the time. All we have are these two souls, dad and son, no names. They are moving from one place to another to get to the coast, why, we do not know, are left to wonder. Along the way Cormac Mccarthy describes the world we never want to see. Smoldering even after a few years, everything black and stripped of any semblance. Not many people, and those they meet, they are afraid of. Looters, and murderers and eaters of flesh.
The story follows a father and son as the they wander, stagger, and grope their way through a burned over America. Little moves within this incinerated landscape that is smothered in ash driven by a cold wind. The snow is grey. Rivers run thickly clogged with ash and soot. The trees are black skeletons. The pair is heading for the Eastern coast with little hope of finding anything. They have nothing save a pistol and a handful of bullets to defend themselves against the bands of ravenous ghouls who maraud the roads and heat-buckled Interstates like bizarre, merciless highwaymen. And they have the ragged clothes they’re wearing and a cart of scavenged food. And they have themselves.
These two souls, father and son, the two evidences that love can keep you going, can keep you on the right path, and can keep you "One of the good guys". There is not much to keep you going or to keep you safe. Death, no food, no shelter, no clothing, harsh and cold environment, only your wits, and then it is hard to keep them together. A harsh and cold path and if it is what we have to face, Cormac Mccarthy has given us the most beautiful prose and surreal writing,with an economy of words that is beautiful in its execution.
The vulnerable cultural references for this daring scenario obviously come from science fiction. But what propels The Road far beyond its progenitors are the diverted poetic heights of McCarthy's late-English prose; the simple declamation and plainsong of his rendered dialect, as perfect as early Hemingway; and the adamantine surety and utter aptness of every chiselled description.
McCarthy carves this world in a harsh, stark lyricism reserved for those who speak unflinching prophecy. Both the father and son are surrounded by a nightmare and are frightened by others. They are starving, always cautiously alert, only having a grocery cart with a few blankets and a gun with two bullets, either to protect against the cannibalistic humanity following their tracks or for the father to finish their lives before despair consumes them both.
As they journey to the coast in search of something, the father tells the boy it is better to have nightmares because when you start dreaming, you know the end is near. McCarthy allows the reader to dream for them, striving on with them until a conclusion that whispers, under the pain and futility, of a sovereignty that is older than the destruction ever looming in the world.
Cormac McCarthy is one of the best American writers authoring nine novels including "Suttree", "Cities of the Plain" and "No Country for Old Men".The country in all of his books is no place for old men or those lacking a mad sense of courage. He’s won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award. His author photo depicts an individual of stern background who’s perhaps seen more than he wanted. The ever-popular eternity stare is in evidence.
But there seems to be a glimmer of hope or optimism shining faintly in the wind-blown grimness. All along the journey to the coast, despite the horrors and deprivations the father and son encounter, the two happen upon caches of abundance : canned meats, fruits, vegetables, clean water in a cistern, decent clothing. This may not seem like much, but the finds shimmer like gold in the stygian atmosphere. It is remarkable that McCarthy pulls this off, a testament to his skill, while never ceasing in his relentless portrayal of hopelessness. The Road is a novel of transforming power and formal risk. Abandoning gruff but profound male camaraderie, McCarthy instead sounds the limits of imaginable love and despair between a diligent father and his timid young son, "each other's world entire". The initial experience of the novel is sobering and oppressive, its final effect is emotionally shattering.
Camus wrote that the world is ugly and cruel, but it is only by adding to that ugliness and cruelty that we sin most gravely. The Road affirms belief in the tender pricelessness of the here and now. In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times,it warns us all how much we have to lose. Beauty and goodness are here aplenty and we should think about them. While we can.
This is all a long way of getting around to the fact that the recently quite-productive Cormac McCarthy has written a new novel, The Road, which is set in a post-apocalyptic environment, and it’s as though he was made for it. The book is not only an instant classic of its type, it is very close to being the novel of the year.Highly recommended.

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