On the Nightstand – The Road   Leave a comment

By Cormac McCarthy, the first book of his that I’ve read.

This is not the feel-good book of the year. It is psychologically and spiritually heavy, especially if you’re a parent. It is also an excellent book.

My wife just read this for her book club and she really wanted me to read it, so I pounded it out last night in about 4 hours. It’s a very quick read once you get into the author’s writing style. Here’s a link to the New York review, but I would advise reading the book before the review, as there are a couple of spoliers in there.

Although I don’t agree with everything in that review, I find myself nodding along with Michael Chabon’s summary:

What emerges most powerfully as one reads The Road is not a prognosticatory or satirical warning about the future, or a timeless parable of a father’s devotion to his son, or yet another McCarthyesque examination of the violent underpinnings of all social intercourse and the indifference of the cosmic jaw to the bloody morsel of humanity. The Road is not a record of fatherly fidelity; it is a testament to the abyss of a parent’s greatest fears. The fear of leaving your child alone, of dying before your child has reached adulthood and learned to work the mechanisms and face the dangers of the world, or found a new partner to face them with. The fear of one day being obliged for your child’s own good, for his peace and comfort, to do violence to him or even end his life. And, above all, the fear of knowing— as every parent fears—that you have left your children a world more damaged, more poisoned, more base and violent and cheerless and toxic, more doomed, than the one you inherited.

Interestingly, I found myself wondering (after I read it) if the book was longer than it needed to be, or shorter than it needed to be, or just the right length. My first impression was that it could have been merely a short story, because I was struck by the same feeling Chabon summarized in that paragraph -> that the book was about parental horrors, and really that story can be told by taking the first 90% of the book and condensing it into 5 pages and then tacking on the last dozen or so. On the other hand, the book is also about the nature of courage and resolve, obsession, hope and dispair, and compassion and pragmatism … and for those purposes, you need the entire work. However, it isn’t really what I call science fiction, and really isn’t entirely post-apocalyptic fiction either. Obviously McCarthy is using a post-apocalyptic setting for his story, but there are a number of questions (normally answered in post-apocalyptic fiction) that are left unresolved… but the lack of them didn’t leave me frustrated or dying of curiosity, because that wasn’t really what the book was about. The end of the world is a plot device in this story, which gives the author a means to channel horror and dispair into the reader, but its not the plot *of* the story.

In any event, I recommend it if you like dousing your psyche in a chilling bath every once in a while.

** Edit **

The book won the Pulitzer today.

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Posted April 16, 2007 by padraic2112 in books

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