Monday, September 17, 2007

Carrying The Fire

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road.
I liked it, and I think it is not only a worthwhile and rewarding read, but an important one also. Important in the sense that it causes us to ponder things worth pondering. As all great literature ought to do, it strikes at what is best and worst about being human.
It is written in what my Reading Partner© aptly called a “minimalist” fashion.
Short, choppy, often incomplete sentences. [ As this one is.] Sentences lacking a verb. Repetitive, one-word exchanges in dialogue. The Road must set some sort of world-record in the use of the word “okay” for instance… or the phrase “I know.”

There is an elegance about it, though. A sophistication in the midst of its own structural economy. It reads quickly, but it is not simple. America is bleak, ruined, rotting, and burnt-out. And it is as though McCarthy employed the most modest, un-Flaubertian means to tell us. Opening any of his other novels quickly reveals that he does not always write as sparingly as he did here.

Character-wise, we only get to know the nameless man and his nameless son.
We meet no one else that we would want to know better, nor do they. [Until the very end, perhaps.]
America, and presumably the entire world, has been destroyed, years ago. Although the cause is not explicitly given [it is hinted at], we suspect nuclear catastrophe on a massive scale, leaving barely any human survivors. And the great majority of these are murderous and cannabalistic, traveling in gangs, seeking their victims.
Everything is burnt, molten, and ashen. The snow falls gray.

Into this world the man and his son push their gear-laden, wonky-wheeled, shopping cart along The Road.
They struggle to survive upon the chance finding of food, clothing, and shelter. Their [unexplained] immediate goal is to stay on a southern course, and reach the ocean. They meet with devastating hardship and horror, and any moments of respite are few and far between.
What binds them together is their profound love for each other, and their commitment to “being one of the good guys” and “carrying the fire.” This becomes their sort of “code” for helping each other keep the inner spirit of goodness alive.
The child seems better equipped to do this, than the man.
But McCarthy shows us that this is because, along with the adult commitment to survival comes the adult responsibility of protection. And this latter thing is motivated by perhaps the fiercest and most sacrificial of all human loves.
Parental love.
In the hour of greatest need, it is this very form of love that will redeem the horror found in the barren world of The Road, and in a way that will reach beyond the novel’s final pages.

I highly recommend The Road because it is Horrible. In the sense of horrid.
In the sense of possible.
But I also recommend it because it Beautiful. In the sense of tender, and moving.
And because it speaks ultimately to what is best, not worst, in us.
Anyone reading The Road will know that they would like to be “one of the good guys.”
And given the current state of our real world, this may be a good thing to keep in mind!

Go ahead and ORDER THE BOOK.

P.S. I think this is real neat, how three high-school English teachers created a promo to try and seduce their students into a reading of The Road.
I say, “Hey, if heavy metal music get s the kids to read…. TURN IT UP!”



Anonymous said...

Reviews don't get any better than this. I read this book too and you have captured the essentials of it in an amazingly concise fashion.

I read it almost in toto - in one sitting.
It's that kind of book.

How do you think it compares to the Crace you read a while back? Or should we not compare?

I wonder: what is the best (most mesmerizing, affecting, engaging?) apocalyptic literature your readers have ever read - and why?

I think it is a tough genre to write well.

Thank you for your consistently thoughtful, entertaining stuff! I love this site!

cipriano said...

Thank you for your comment.
The one thing I have failed to mention in my review, [but reviews are not essays, per se] is that McCarthy not only shows the profound protector/love instinct in the parent... but also shows the lack of it, as well. For the mother of the child actually does abandon him, [the child] in the book.

How does it compare with the Crace book, The Pesthouse?
Well, I liked Pesthouse better, I really did.
But yes, comparisons like that are a bit... well, my Reading Partner is rightfully teaching me to not do it!

You've posed a good question, to the readers.
Were I to answer it, I would have to say I really liked [way back when] Stephen King's The Stand.
But, I guess Brave New World, and 1984 stand out in my mind as the best, really. I have not read On The Beach, but would like to.
And for sort of... pseudo-apocalyptic stuff, I love Jose Saramago's The Cave, and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

piksea said...

Great review! I couldn't put it down, despite the fact that it was sooooo depressing. I read somewhere about people having trouble knowing who was speaking in some of the passages, but I never had a problem with that. I did reach for the lightest bit of fluff at hand as soon as I closed the covers and brushed away the last of the tears.

joemmama said...

Well said and what a terrific review! I,too found this wonderful and horrible at the same time. Wonderful story and writing and horrible because it is so possible. Super job!