The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

You forget some things, dont you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

I'll be frank and say that the reason I wanted to read this in the first place is that Viggo Mortensen is playing the role of the man traveling the road with his son. I mean, when I heard that Viggo signed on I immediately wished for a copy of the book. Not that wishes do come true (but in this case it does, I had to pay for my copy though) and by the time I got around to this one I already read No Country for Old Men and was blown by it (not to mention the movie version).

That is a pretty long paragraph to say that my prime motivating factor in buying this was an actor who played Aragorn in Peter Jackson's version of Lord of the Rings. Enough said. Let me discuss the book.

It's sometime in the future and two people are walking down the road. A future that is bleak, post-apocalyptic. A man and his son traverse scorched plains searching for food to keep them alive. Along the way they see remnants of things past: the houses left behind, the dessicated corpses of those who didn't survive what - a bomb, an explosion - who knows exactly, it was never mentioned. But we are left with the man and his son. Both unnamed. Both trying to survive. And there are others like them; searching for salvation or god knows what, desperate for food and companionship. Or just plain desperate.

It's a future as cold as that coldblooded killer named Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Again, McCarthy manages to disturb me not just of images of a future that is dark yet all too real but of thoughts and feelings that are all too relevant now. My heart races at the thought of some of the survivors killing each other and yet, desperation is indeed a motive. Some scenes are too gruesome to mention even but like I said, everything that McCarthy conjures in this powerful story is relevant in the here and now. It is a bleak future but it is also a part of who we are as people, who we can be when the going gets tougher and tougher each day.

But above the seeming darkness there is still love. And hope. The love shown by the father to the son, relentlessly rallying the boy to survive amidst the desolation of winter with nothing but the clothes on their back and hardly any food to eat. There's hope in a handful of apples found along the way, the scent of which brings back memories of a not so distant past of warmth and laughter. Still, the love is shared only by the two of them, and hope like the apple comes and goes.

In a world where rules don't apply what separates men from beasts? Good from evil? Is survival reason enough to forget one's humanity? These aren't the only questions I asked myself. And there are times I had to put it down because the image in my head gets too disturbing, afraid that if I think of them at all then it becomes all to real. But the image is still there, as gruesome as the future painted by the author.

I was actually reminded of a conversation between Kaylee and Simon in Joss Whedon's short-running Firefly series. In an episode, Kaylee was practically telling the young doctor that out there in the black, in that wide expanse of the universe where the ship Serenity sails looking for business, good manners don't matter. Something that Simon objected to; to him manners become all the more important. Something to that effect.

Of course McCarthy somehow made that entire conversation all the more serious and disturbing in this story which practically deals with the same thing. Yeah. Manners. Morals actually. How you deal with yourself when you're trying to survive. How you deal with others who aren't on the same page as you. How you deal, period.

Read this. You should.

This is my last book for the first Book Award Reading Challenge. The Road won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007 and the James Tait Black Memorial Award in 2006.