Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Road

Firstly, an update - my blog has changed YET AGAIN. I was having technical difficulties with the other one, so I transferred to a new account with a slightly modified domain name. If you were following me before, please follow me again! I promise this is the last time!

Also, I missed Wednesday's post, due to helping my boyfriend move, and then I had car issues this week so I thought, "Screw it, I'll post it next Wednesday."

So, today's post is going to look at the next book on my list: Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

What is there to say about this book? Well, I can say with absolute certainty (forget 'certitude,' Anthony Weiner...) that this book is one of the most gripping I think I've ever read.  This was a book that got under my skin in a profoundly disturbing way.  Simply put, this was a book that was hard for me to read, yet even harder for me to put down.  I knew that when I started tearing up 10 pages in, I was in for a difficult read.

Set sometime after an unnamed apocalyptic cataclysm that has left the Earth rotting and decayed, a father and son make their way south to try and find some way of surviving along the coast.  The earth is entirely scorched, the wildlife and vegetation nothing more than dust.  The man and boy have to avoid "the bad guys," cults of ruthless cannibals who are constantly making their way down the road, looking for flesh.  There's hardly any food and water remaining, the days are always cold, and the world is covered in ash and darkness.  The only thing the two of them has is each other.

McCarthy's prose is at times breathtaking, though I personally think he relies a little too much on antiquated words; in a way, it forced me to brush up on my vocabulary, so not too bad, but annoying when you're trying to stay immersed.

Yet, the writing to the point, minimalist in form, which is appropriate for the style of the book - even quotation marks and apostrophes aren't included.  It's bare bones, and this is a style that I think really complements the overarching theme of the novel - when the world is ending, only the bare minimum exists. 

As for the content, there are times when the book is downright gruesome, with violent images and sometimes horrific passages.  Without giving anything away, I came to a point in the book where I had to put it down, because the visual imagery was just too awful for me to continue that I just couldn't go on.  I decided to go to bed, only to open the book 5 minutes later when I realized - "I can't go to sleep with that image in my brain. I have to keep going."

That was a common motif for me - I had to keep reading.  It was so bleak, so dreary, so hopeless, but I had to keep going because I needed to know something good was going to happen, and if it didn't, my heart would break.

There's very little that is happy about this book.  Time and time again, our protagonists are left hopeless, and at the back of my mind, I kept having niggling little thoughts that they weren't going to make it - that there was no way that anything good would happen. 

I was mostly right.  Within the last 10 pages of the book, I was bawling so hard I had to put the book down to compose myself.  There is a glimmer of hope in the end, but the weight of the oppressive sadness of the book is unrelenting.  After I finished, I could only think about all I had read and seen in my mind, and I was disturbed to the point of not sleeping that night.

I told my boyfriend this and he asked me, "Was it worth it?  If you could go back, would you still read it?"  At the time, I answered that, as far as literature goes, it's beautifully written.  And it is, and this is something that does help cushion the blow of the impact, I think.  McCarthy will include throw away lines references Joyce, Dickens, and other authors. Some people have criticized the book for this (along with stylistic choices), saying that the novel is pretentious or overwrought.  Maybe that is the case.  And that's okay.  But, I actually read it differently - as a sly reassurance.  Everything in the world is gone, but language, and more importantly, literature, still survives in these characters - civilization is gone, but narrative will live on, in some way.  McCarthy places a large emphasis on the fact that the father tells the boy stories - that's an important point.  As long as people still live, narrative still lives.  It's all very meta, I suppose.  At least, that was my take-away. 

But going back to the question, "Was it worth it?"  I thought a lot about this question.  In the end, I think what The Road does best is it provokes the critical thought: what would I do?  This is both a good and bad thing to contemplate.  What would I do if the world were utterly destroyed, and there was no hope left?  How would I manufacture hope?  Would I even be able to?  Would it be better to go on living in such a place, or not?  This is the question that kept me up for a week, that made this read so difficult for me.  How does one fathom the unfathomable?  Am I worse off for thinking about this topic?  I've been told, "it's not going to happen," in an attempt to be reassured.  But that isn't the point.  I think what the book's goal is to get you to think about humanity - your humanity, to be more specific.  What lengths would go to in order to survive in such situation?

Do I recommend The Road?  From a literary standpoint, yes.  I think its themes, its style, its characters are all important to read.  Even for those who don't like it, I think it's important to analyze.  From a personal standpoint, I think this is a book that people should read, yes, but they have to be prepared to really ask themselves the hard questions after they do.

As for me, I can't say I enjoyed the book so much as others.  But I do think that it's had a profound effect on me, and I think it's just as valuable to read books that make you contemplate yourself and your life choices.  To contemplate what it means to "live" and to be "humane."  It's a book that I know will probably haunt me for a very long time.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like an incredible story, Alex. I do enjoy tragedies (in the fictional sense) because they are SO moving, you can't help but be carried along in the tide. It's an amazing thing for an author to capture that, and I'm glad you got something out of reading, even if you didn't necessarily enjoy the emotions.