I bought Cormac McCarthy's latest opus The Road not because Oprah recently added it to the Oprah Book Cult, but because one of the smartest bloggers I know suggested it.
All of the comments I've heard about the story are true. It is dismal, and tragic and bleak. In fact, saying this story is bleak is like saying the Pope is a little bit Catholic. It's like calling Larry Moore "mature" (had to get a Larry Moore dig in there).
This is a raw cheerless book. And yet somehow, after consuming it in about a day and a half (I do have a job unfortunately) I wasn't depressed at all. In fact, quite the opposite.
In case you haven't heard about it yet, the story follows the struggles of an unnamed man and his young son as they trudge through a post-apocalyptic America on their way to the coast and what they hope will be a better life. Along the way, they face threats from starvation, freezing, sickness and (gulp) cannibals.
It seemed to me McCarthy was attempting to strip away everything but the essence of existence. He peeled off the unnecessary layers of luxury, money, success, power, religion (though not necessarily spirituality) and cheap sentimentality in an attempt to discuss the core issues of why we are here.
Reflective of this philosophy, the writing is sparse, like the landscape it is describing. Anything unessential has been left out -- even to the point of eliminating some punctuation and parts of sentences.
This is all to illustrate that there is one thing important in this story: The relationship between the man and his son. In the world that McCarthy has conjured, there is no reason to go on living other than their love for each other. They are "each other's world entire" as McCarthy writes.
And this is the hope and beauty of the story set in an altogether ugly world. That at the heart of everything, taking away all of that which we think is important, in the end love is what will sustain us.
There was much symbolism around the nature of God, good and evil, and all manner of ethical questions that smarter people than I will get into.
But for me, the book wasn't depressing. In fact, when I finished the final pages my only thought was that I wanted to pick up my 4-year-old daughter and give her a long hug.
And that's what I did.
Rating: Highly recommended
PS - I was remiss in omitting these excellent and insightful posts about The Road by other of the smartest bloggers I know:
- Joel from Cup o' Joel: The Road
- Randall Sherman at Musings from the Hinterland: Creation "Myths" Meet Creation Reality: Some Thoughts On Cormac McCarthy's The Road