Thu 4 Feb, 2010 01:15 pm
Review of Cormac Mccarthy's The Road
The world of Cormac Mccarthy's The Road is one of bleakness and melancholy. A world striped of its life and most of its humanity. The story is one of a man and his son fighting for survival and fighting to retain their humanity in a post-apocalyptic world full of organized gangs of cannibals. The cause of this aftermath isn't revealed by Mccarthy, as if he wants us to imagine all of the ways in which the world could die.
The sun is shaded by a gray shroud, causing its light to appear dim. The brightest light that shines in this grime world is the man's son who, though robbed of his innocence, reflects and retains the nobility and beauty of the human being. His father makes it his duty to protect his son from harm without resorting to the ways of those he's protecting him from. The son has a selfless streak that worries his father at times. He reminds his son that he needs to be prepared for the time when he's not there to protect him. That he needs to learn how to balance his selflessness with rational self-concern. Examples of this ethical tug of war are made at two distinct moments in the story. One is when the boy and his father come across a wandering old man on the road. The father is suspicious and distrusting and doesn't care to give the man any food, but the boy talks him into giving him one can of fruits and inviting him to have dinner with them. Another moment is when their food and supplies are stolen by another hungry man struggling to survive. They catch up with the man on the road and the father takes back the supplies at gunpoint while demanding that the man remove his clothes and put them in the cart. The thief begs him not to take his clothing but the man refuses and tells him that he's doing to him exactly what he was going to do to them. The boy begins to sob and continues to sob long after the man is out of sight. He tells his father that the man was just hungry. They go back but the man is gone, leaving his son with the pain of conscience.
Mccarthy supplies the reader with a fluent and beautiful narrative all the way through. The dialogue carries the reader into philosophic meditation. One such dialogue is between the father and an old man he and his son met on the road. The father says that if you were the last man on earth you wouldn't know, but God would know. The old man responds by saying "There is no God and we are his prophets". Mccarthy has an acute talent for recreating a Godless, deterministic world where the just and the unjust are both subject to the whims of uncertainty. He also has a knack for recreating the beauty within such a world - a beauty that's not easy to see on cloudy days.
It's a good read. But I prefer Blood Meridian or Child of God. McCarthy is a first-rate novelist. Better than most of Faulkner. Better than most of anyone, if you can stomach his grit.