Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy
New York, Knopf, 2006
256 pages   Fiction
AudioBooks 2006 read by Tom Stechschulte   6.75 hours

The road for us was the interstate driving home from our spring vacation. We slipped the disks of The Road by Cormac McCarthy into the player and took off. Cocooned as we were in our car, we became so totally engrossed in the journey of the man and the boy on the post apocalyptic road that we were totally disoriented when we stopped to get gas. “Where are we?” my husband asked? There were well-fed, well-dressed people all around us; we felt like refugees.
Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Road, a bleak dystopian novel about a father and son who are on their way to someplace warmer following some type of disaster—the type never disclosed. They have been traveling for years, since the boy was very little and now he is about 10. Their bond is so definitive that the boy very seldom questions a decision the father makes, unless it involves being unkind or hurting the few people they meet, or when they have to scavenge through an abandoned house. The boy is so pure that his father calls him “the one” and tells him that they are the “good guys” and they are bringing “the fire.” We never know the names of the two—they are only “the man” and “the boy” until the very end of the book when the man becomes known as “the father.”

The story is deceptively simple in its telling. The father and the son speak to each other in short sentences—the dialogue is very spare. The father frequently hugs his son when the boy tells him, “I’m so scared!” He comforts him by saying, “It’s OK” over and over again.

The love between father and son is religious in nature; the father is consumed with getting his son to a safe place so that the boy will restore the world to its former goodness, so that his purity will bring salvation to the world. When the father dies, the boy is found by another pilgrim family “some good guys” who are also carrying the fire. The father dies knowing his son is “the one” because the boy tells him so. When they capture a man who stole from them, the father leaves the robber naked on the road to freeze. The boy protests but the father chides him: “You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.” And then the 10-year-old messiah, who is compassion incarnate, and carrying the fire, gives up his secret. He says to his father: “Yes I am. I am the one.”

One would think that such a austere novel would be difficult to read (or in our case) listen to, but it is so magnificently written that the reader hangs on every perfectly placed word. One reviewer said that it was so beautifully written that readers would seldom ever find another so magnificent in its prose. 

Dennis LeHane has said of The Road: “McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out—the entire world is, quite literally, dying—so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith.”

This is the first novel by Cormac McCarthy I have read, although I had seen the movie version of No Country for Old Men. I tried to watch The Road when it first came out on DVD, but it was too bleak. The audio book was beautifully read and in our confinement in the car, we were able to hear each carefully chosen word. I envisioned McCarthy honing each sentence, over and over again until it was just perfect.

As we reached the middle of the sixth CD and I knew that the father was going to die, I thought to myself, “I can’t bear it! I’m not going to be able to bear it.” The pathos is so stark; I couldn’t stop crying, even though I saw it coming. When the CD ended, I turned off the dial, and my husband and I sat in stunned silence for a long time. Finally, he turned on the radio to NPR and we listened to David Sedaris tell a long silly story about dogs. It was only a novel after all. 

Cormac McCarthy’s website:
Here is the beautifully written New York Times review of The Road:

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