Wednesday, August 13, 2008

the road (cormac mccarthy)

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006, The Road is an extended narrative of a journey taken in post-apocalyptic America (most likely the southeastern appalachian region) by a father and a son. The aftermath of man-made destruction (environmental?) is truly horrific, and the landscape is further scarred by the savage inhumanity that is always present (including cannibalism). The son's mother had committed suicide, and the implication is that this was the rational response to the situation; the father presses on, encouraging the son to hang on, not to give up. "Why?", the son will ask. The father simply asks the son to believe him. The road upon which they journey defies hope, and yet the father must instill some kind of hope in the son; this takes the form of reaching the sea, which, upon arrival, is not blue but gray. Along the way, at the point of starvation, the father and son stumble upon life-saving provisions, for which the son movingly gives thanks. The question of the purpose of the journey's purpose is answered by the father as "carrying the fire".

Reading The Road reminded me of several of Walker Percy's novels, and also Walter Miller's A Canticle For Leibowitz; I also recalled the music of the 1960s and 1970s: David Crosby's Wooden Ships and Jackson Browne's For Everyman and After The Deluge. IMcCarthy paints a dark vision of human nature, and indeed depicts a world that might exist apart from human agency (for this it has been hailed by environmental critics); his portrayal of human nature is similar to that found in No Country For Old Men, a novel written the year prior (2005), and later adapted by the Coen Brothers for the screen (it was voted best picture in 2007 at the Academy Awards).

The novel is amazing in many respects: in the portrayal of the intimate relationship between parent and child; in the sensory description of the toll that the journey takes on both (hunger, pain, rest, sleep); in the continuing conversation about the importance of story, dream, truth and memory; in the parent's need to shield the child from pain, and the child's need to understand; in the essential role of the parent as guide and the child as student; and in the need for a destination, a goal. The themes of prudence and altruism are also prevalent in the novel; the parent is guarded, the child would be more generous. And throughout the question: Are we the good guys? How do we know?

Again, this is a question that occurs in other McCarthy works, and especially in the ambiguous characters that populate No Country For Old Men. In the end, father and son do reach their destination; it is not quite what they had anticipated, and there is a somewhat surprising and, for me, satisfying ending. If you have not read The Road, I will leave the rest unsaid.

As a Christian, I was grateful for McCarthy's willingness to enter into the horror (hell) of a world devastated by environmental degradation and human violation in its most extreme form. Such a world cries out for those who will "carry the fire", who seek a better life even when such a pursuit seems irrational. I was also conscious, in walking along The Road, that many make this same journey, for we are all on this path with McCarthy.


Post a Comment

<< Home