Al Fin Affictionado

A Combination of Original Fiction and Reviews of Fiction Interesting to Al Fin and Contributors All Works Copyright as of publish date, AlFin2100 blog syndicate

Location: North America

Primary interest is seeing that the best of humanity survives long enough to reach the next level.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD

Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, The Road, presents an incredibly dire post-apocalyptic scenario. Human civilisations are finished. The earth itself is dead--no living animals, no micro-organisms alive in the soil, in the air, in the ocean--anywhere on earth. Everything is ash, and people survive by eating the food caches of the dead--or by eating other people.

There are very few people left by the time the reader joins the father and son on the (mostly) lonely road to the coast. Walking along, pushing a shopping cart with all their earthly possessions, following the road build by a forever-lost civilisation of man.
Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. 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.
Dennis Lehane's review

McCarthy's apocalyptic vision goes beyond the devastation of a nuclear war, beyond the devastation from most survivable asteroid/comet collisions. The only thing that comes close would be an intentional terraforming project by aliens who required an entirely different ecosystem--because in The Road, the ecosystem is simply gone.

Of course, all the devastation is but a backdrop for McCarthy's tale of the love of a father for his son. Still, a novelist should be accountable for the entire book, not just the parts that fit.

The Road was both depressing and inspiring.

When reading a post-apocalyptic novel, I am always looking for ways to jump start a sustainable, just (non-cannibal) community within the devastation. The ending of the book suggests the possibility of such a community. The problem of food was never solved, however. On such a thoroughly dead earth, there are no animals to trap, no fish to catch, no plants to grow for food. What are these non-cannibals going to eat?

This is where the fact that McCarthy is neither a scientist nor a hard science fiction writer, makes it difficult for him to be plausibly optimistic for the future of the survivors of his narrative. Someone such as myself--and most other persons with backgrounds in science--on the other hand, can think of many places to look for life--even in such a dark world as McCarthy paints.

So read the book for the lessons it teaches--lessons of love in impossible circumstances, lessons of surviving against unimaginable odds...

But always be thinking, somewhere in the back of your minds, about what fits and what does not, and how you might do things differently. The Road is different from most McCarthy novels, yet quite recognizable as his. I would not have missed it.

Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD
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