catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 11 :: 2007.06.01 — 2007.06.15


A post-apocalyptic blessing

After the enthusiastic recommendations of two friends, my husband and I purchased Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Our brand new copy was sitting at home unread when I found myself at a concert at a local bookstore, starting to read a copy we had purchased for someone else as a graduation gift (risky, I know, to gift a book without reading it first). I read a third of the gift copy that evening and finished it within two days.  Only sleep, food and the pleasant weather for yard work could tear me away.

The Road is the story of a father and his seven-year-old son in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States, traveling daily through all of the perils of cold, hunger and physical threats from other living humans to reach the ocean coast and head south toward warmer weather and an almost forbidden hope for civilized society.  The landscape has been ravaged by fire and, accordingly, the human conscience has been ravaged by despair.  Appropriately, there are no chapter breaks in the novel, simply blank lines representing sleep or interminable trudging along the road. 

The story is at once simple and engaging.  Without a lot of excess philosophizing weighing it down, the story itself reveals much.  In the same way as another recently told post-apocalyptic story in the film Children of Men, it deftly invites the viewer/reader to ask, “What would I do if…?” which ultimately reveals the things we hold most dear, as well as the excesses and faults of our present reality.  Not only is the post-apocalyptic world of The Road a place where so much stuff that we currently crave has become useless, but it's also a world in which trust and kindness and fearlessness are simply impossible.  There is even a question of whether love could survive such global tragedy or whether all relationships, even those which resemble love, would inevitably devolve into self-interest.  The deprivations of the world McCarthy creates put a different spin on the tendency to return to our own world, either from literal or literary despair, to realize how “blessed” we are—what indeed are we blessed with? 

I'm almost hesitant, however, to skewer The Road with some kind of satisfying here-and-now application.  Whereas Children of Men seems to invite that approach with obvious allusions to current events, the story and the characters in The Road are just so heartbreakingly beautiful at times that I don't want to shatter it's fragile, uncomfortable reality.  Some might say that's one of the marks of a really good story, I suppose.

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