bleak, horrifying, painful beauty
February 27, 2009
Forgive me if I seem a little down, I just finished reading (well, listening to) The Road.
I’m feeling a little verklempt.
I was supposed to go to a book group tonight to talk about it, but I can’t make it. (Sorry Doug! Consider this my contribution. And thanks for the invite.)
But he’s written like 10 novels. I know what I’ll be doing for the next little while.
The Road, essentially, is a man and his young son wandering the post-apocalyptic world, battling cannibalistic survivors, the cold, hunger, and most of all, hopelessness.
For sheer bleakness, it’s hard to beat. It has a weird incongruency that fascinates me–The dialog is spare, almost bare-bones, even just plain rough, but the narration and description of the action, such as it is, and the landscape (which is brutally, totally wasted) is like reading 100 enchantingly heartrending poems, laid end to end. I have rarely, if ever, okay never, read something so utterly horrible described so lovingly, so beautifully, so artfully.
I really don’t want to spoil any part of the book for those of you who haven’t read it, and so few things actually happen, that to describe them is to maybe undermine them, but here’s just a sample of the awesome awesomeness of McCarthy’s prose (I listened to it on cd, so I’m grabbing my quotes off the web):
“The land was gullied and eroded and barren. The bones of dead creatures sprawled in the washes. Middens of anonymous trash. Farmhouses in the fields scoured of their paint and the clapboards spooned and sprung from the wallstuds. All of it shadowless and without feature. The road descended through a jungle of dead kudzu. A marsh where the dead reeds lay over the water. Beyond the edge of the fields the sullen haze hung over the earth and sky alike. By late afternoon it had begun to snow and they went on with the tarp over them and the wet snow hissing on the plastic.”
“The boy was all that stood between him and death. He saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe.”
I’m telling you, this is Hemingway crossed with George Romero, crossed with the Bible. But not the happy parts of the Bible.
The Man says to his son, “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you.” And, um, he does.
And, as horrible and dark and hopeless as this book mostly feels, its prose elevates the story, and if you can’t keep reading for the darkness, you must keep reading for the beauty.
In the end, it leaves you with a tiny spark of faith, unlike Mcarthy’s No Country For Old Men, which is essentially a capitulation to the rising tide of implaccable, unstoppable evil. Here, at least, he throws us a tiny little bone of hope to chew on while the world goes to Hell. So to speak.