Friday, June 8, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

By the time I decided to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, having dismissed it several times as it sat there on the "New" shelf at the library, there was a waiting list a mile long, and I had to wait a couple of weeks. I was skeptical after reading the book jacket, worried that a father and son walking down a deserted road in a post-apocalyptic world would be nothing but monotony, cause me to fall asleep on the train, and wake me with a start as the book hits the floor--and the foot of the person sitting in front of me.

Once the book was in my hands, it was finished in two days. By the time I read the last sentence, there were tears in my eyes. Was it monotonous? Maybe for the characters, but there were times when my heart thumped loudly along with theirs.

I was lucky enough to see what was billed as McCarthy's first and last interview on Oprah earlier this week, and he said the book was inspired by his love for his young son. It's plain to see the book is about the love parents have for their children and how tied we are to our offspring.

But it's about so much more. While McCarthy might think the book is simple, it would be easy to discuss various themes and emotions stirred up by the story for hours or more.

I read one review--I can't remember where, but it wasn't a "formal" journalistic one--saying the book was devoid of hope or something along those lines. I read this before opening the book, and I was happy to find that this is so far from the truth.

Hope of finding something on the coast--a sign of life, salvation, anything--kept the father and son going, plodding along the road even when close to death from starvation or steps away from "the bad guys." If I knew in my heart that there was nothing on the horizon, that hope had slipped from my grasp forever, I don't think I could continue to fight or keep going.

But it's more complicated than that. I have to ask myself, if my daughter and I were the father and son in the book, and I knew there was no hope except an afterlife, would I lie for the sake of my daughter? Would I be able to take the last bullets and end both of our lives so we could move onto whatever lies on the other side? Or would I continue to stagger forward, wondering if the last meager meal we ate was our last, wondering where to go after reaching yet another dead end? I'm glad, at least at this point in time, I don't have to answer these questions.

The only part of the book I didn't like--and this could be because it was written by a man, and I'm coming from the perspective of a woman who's given birth and loves a child with all my being (a statement that could open another can of worms entirely)--was the character of the mother. You learn her dismal fate early on, and she's only mentioned in flashbacks in a few paragraphs. Let's just say if that hysterical piece of work was my wife, I would've killed her myself. Okay, so I admit that I live in a world that is still pretty much intact, and while I can't understand what it's like to live in such hell, I think it's pretty accurate to state that I would be scared out of my mind. However, like the father in the book (who I'm sure was scared to near death much of the time himself), I wouldn't have it in me to leave my daughter alone or put her out of her misery myself. Being a mother changes you. I'm still pretty timid and not really outgoing, but I will stand up and do things that seem out of character when it comes to defending or protecting my kid. I couldn't abandon her simply out of fear of my own safety. I don't want to even think about how scared she would be in such a situation and to leave her all alone is unimaginable.

While I'm on a roll, I'd like to share a line from the book that struck me so deeply, I felt compelled to write it down: You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget. These are the little nuggets of truth that are actually so big, so universal--things I wish I could write myself.

This thought is so true, no matter what era or circumstance you are in. I remember my 10-year-old self answering the phone and hearing my grandmother's raspy voice in the midst of her fatal heart attack, my mom's voice when she told me Dad was dead, my sister's sobs when my nephew died. And even as I write this now, the feeling in my stomach is so strong, as if I were once again living in these unbearable moments. Yet I want to remember the sound of my daughter's first cry, the first time she said "Mommy," my father's voice--but they are forever lost to the wind.

McCarthy might've been talking about another road. We all walk it, and none of us know if we'll make it to the end or, if we do, what we'll find there.

Disclosure:  I borrowed The Road from the library.


Serena said...

Bravo. Now it makes me want to read the book. LOL too bad i have two Patterson's and some nicky sparks beforehand.

Anna said...

You definitely should read the book! Depending on which Sparks book you have lined up (you know he's my personal fave "fluff" reading) I'd read it before that!

Serena said...

LOL before fluff I should read cormac eh?! LOL I should have a new post later on today, so I guess you will have to read it it will be a poetry post.

Yes, you have made me get a blogger'll have to click on my name to go check it out.

Anna said...

I followed you to follow me to Blogger. We're too funny!

Bethany said...

Wow, I too had just dismissed this book as being silly or fluffy. But now I am putting down my needles and heading over to Zooba to order myself a copy. Love you blog, btw, it is one of my favorites.

Ana S. said...

Lovely review, Anna. The book is really not devoid of hope. I expected it to be too, but I was pleasantly surprised.

You make a good point about the mother, but I guess that he had to get her "out of the way" for the relationship between the father and the son to be what it was. It's not often that you find relationships between fathers and sons as beautifully portrayed as this one. I guess that doing what he did with the character of the mother was the price to pay for it.

Anna said...

Nymeth, I think you're right about the mother. It's been a year since I read this book, and I've had time to ponder it more. The book definitely wouldn't be what it is had the mother stayed around.

Ti said...

I loved this book. Great book to choose for your first, formal review post. Congrats on your 2 years of blogging!

Anna said...

Thanks, Ti!