“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

the roadI had heard his name before…Cormac McCarthy. “Oh, yes”, I thought, “that Matt Damon horse movie that was all but forgotten at the box office.” But the description in the best of 2006 section of Entertainment Weekly caught my eye, and it was their “number one pick of the year!” I was enthralled by the idea of a post apocalyptic world in which a father transports his son by foot across the barren country side, it reminded me of that Japanese film series “Lone Wolf and Cub” and of something I was going to undertake writing at one point. As I was waiting for “The Road” to come to me in the mail, I found out that it had been added to Oprah’s Book Club. I cringed! Then reminded myself I was interested in it long before she got her grubby hands all over it. And grubby the book can become as well, with a single unwashed touch it’s reflective black surface can easily be tarnished until you’re looking at a shadowy disfigured reflection of yourself, completely unrecognizable.

The world McCarthy creates is almost as unrecognizable. Shopping centers are empty of people and food, towns have been deserted, the country side is desolate and charred and the characters have no names. Everything resembling the life they once had has been all but forgotten by the Man, and his son doesn’t know enough to forget. Their dirty sallow faces reminded me of the transients that litter the LA landscape. What exactly happened is never touched upon, how many people are left is few, and most of them it seems cannot be trusted, for when there is no food… This is the landscape the father must travail if his son is to survive. But why do they travel? To what end?

I was sitting with my book outside of a hospital room, where my friend was, and a lady who was also waiting asked what my book was about. At this point I was halfway through and before I could stop myself I said something intelligent. “It’s about choosing to live,” I passed on to her quietly. She nodded as if to say, isn’t that nice. But I realized immediately I was right. Though having finished the book I now realize it reaches beyond that even. When a person chooses to live, how should they choose to live and at what cost to others. Ah, you’ve seen that theme dealt with before? But when a single canned food is all there is to eat in a hundred mile radius those moral grounds become that much muddier. This is the battle that slowly develops between father and son, and this is the heart, soul and thrust of the book. It leads to some of the most complex and intense character interactions I’ve read in a long time and to an ending I will remember until I shrug off this mortal coil.

McCarthy writes as if every word was using oxygen up, as if by thinking to much the Man was allowing himself to die. The descriptions are sparse, the paragraphs short and to the point and with no chapters everything in the book flows quickly and quietly together building a steady mountain of tension that we don’t seem to notice at first until something is upon our characters. Dread is the word. Dread and distrust towards every living thing on two legs. And with each meeting the distinction between father and son shows more clearly. What we witness is that moment when every child becomes a man of his own and puts his parents actions through the perspective of what he believes based on what he has seen.

In the reading and thinking back on this book it is far more applicable to our modern times than one can imagine while reading through. We live right now in a world that’s hardly recognizable from the world before 9/11. What McCarthy perhaps is telling us is that it’s worth continuing to hope and believe in life, no matter what our personal conclusion may be, because that hope will pass down to others and allow things to begin anew between people and nations.

I’ve also read that the already planned movie version may star Viggo Mortenson as the Man. It gives me chills thinking about it, because I can think of no one else.

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