Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's The Road, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for literature, tells the story of a man and his son struggling to survive in the post-apocalyptic world after an unnamed cataclysm has destroyed all civilization on earth.  The setting is bleak: ash fills the air, blocking the sun.  It's always cold.  Living animals and vegetation are nonexistent.  And the people who are remaining are largely "bad guys": thugs, thieves, cannibals.

The man's wife gave up hope and committed suicide before the events of the novel, unable to face the thought of raising their newborn son in this new world order.  The story begins some years later, the man and the boy traveling on a road in the a southerly direction, hoping to find the sea.  They travel with blankets loaded into a shopping cart, a pistol that has only two rounds left, and a vague sense that the sea will provide them with a less unforgiving climate in which to survive.  Against all odds, they find unraided bunkers for the canned goods, water receptacles and the other provisions that are keeping them alive.  Their path is beset by all sorts of obstacles: long-abandoned trucks blocking a bridge, rain and snow that soak through their pathetic clothing and extinguish their fires, gangs of men carrying crude weapons and dragging slaves behind.

The prose is fantastic, and there are some glimmers of good among all the ruin.  Chief among them is the filial love between the man and his son.  They talk of "carrying the fire" and of someday meeting "the good guys."  They are truly living for one another, the man exercising unbelievable strength and will if a threat to his son, whether external or an illness, is perceived.  The boy has known no other world, and from his bleak vantage point there is not much to live for.  But he loves his father and believes that they are doing the right thing by surviving alone, together.

As wonderfully as this is written, the picture painted of this post-apocalypse is so completely hopeless it's hard for me to call it a great book.  It's depressing, but, yes, a remarkable book and worth reading.

Next up: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.

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