Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Road- A book review

Cormac McCarthy !! Never heard of him, was my first reaction when the book The Road was presented to me by my teen daughter, Monica. I flipped through the pages and was further disappointed as there were one-liner long conversations and more than necessary gaps between paragraphs. I was sure it was a ploy by the publisher to make the book look bulky enough to attract potential buyers while on travel. Monica was anxious that the precious euros she had spent on the book at a Paris airport did not rouse my immediate interest. I could not have been more wrong in my assumptions. What a book it is. And what a writer McCarthy is. I have never come across any writer better than McCarthy who can write prose that sounds like poetry.

The Road is a tale of a boy and his father stumbling across the cold, wretched, wet, corpse-strewn, ashen landscape of a post-apocalyptic world, six or seven years after a horrific disaster, probably a nuclear war, which incinerates most of the humans and the landscape that might once have been America. We follow father and son as they walk , pushing a shopping cart, scavenging through empty houses and gutted cities, hiding and running away from gangs reduced to cannibalism and sub-human madness. Their destination is South. The father has just two bullets in the gun for their protection or for killing themselves.

Neither the man nor the boy is given a name. They are referred as “the man” and “ the boy”. The tenderness between them and constant haunting fear gives an animal urgency to their long march. McCarthy maintains the pace by keeping each scene barely more than a paragraph long. And the gaps between paragraphs can be a gap of a few minutes to few days. This has given the book a raw power and rhythm, as if the book was not composed of sections but stanzas in a poem. Every time father or son moves more than a few feet away from the other, a panic intrudes as we read. It is the tense chord of the lost child suspended in our heart, the worst thing about to happen, and McCarthy does it again and again. Few will be able to read The Road without running to hold their own children close. The mother of the boy is only in the memories of the man. The scene is not described but it is implied that she committed suicide losing her will to go through the horrors of the new world.

As we read, we are constantly reminded of the lost human world. All the lost possessions of the human race litter the pages of this novel as garbage and junk. It is haunted by the constant memory of the world before the apocalypse. The shell of that world is still partially there, empty houses and stores and other structures. Highways, bridges, railroad tracks are all still there and may still be there, as the man explains to the boy, for hundreds of years to come. But the human world, the world that created those objects, is wholly gone.
There are other humans too on the land. They appear as wrecks stumbling along the road, or bands of refugees marching military style with yoked slaves in tow, or a small family group that locks up refugees in the basement and cannibalizes them one by one. These are the “bad men.” The boy often asks his father who the good and the bad men are. He is worried by some of the acts his father has committed. The father kills a man who holds a knife to the boy’s throat, and he refuses to give food to various people they pass. He refuses because he wants to ensure his son’s own survival, and they have nothing to share.
The man has no idea what he and the boy will do when they reach the South. He doesn’t expect to be rescued, to find “good” people who will take him and the boy in. Every human being they run across is a danger, to be avoided. Moreover, the man is ill. He coughs up blood, and over the course of the novel he weakens. He knows he is going to die and the boy knows that too. The man knows the boy will outlive him and at first he thinks about killing the child to save him from the horrors of the new world, but ultimately he knows he cannot kill the boy, even out of love. He loves the boy too much.
Finally they reach the coast and then South. The man dies and the boy is taken in by a family. Despite all the despair and pessimism, The Road ends on a note of muted optimism.
The novel is a warning to the World that our own recklessness may destroy everything, not just in the materialistic sense but also in the Spiritual sense.


Anonymous said...

Read what has been posted. It is truly disturbing. Amidst the meaningleass activities that all of us are in to on a daily basis, such books bring us closer to some kind of awareness that all of us need to have. I believe that you would be interested in reading One Fine day by Mitch Albom. - TSK

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Quiana said...

Interesting to know.