The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I kept planning on reading The Road because we have a friend who loves him some Cormac McCarthy, but it didn’t seem like a very cheery book, so I kept putting it off. And then Oprah picked it, and I thought I’d better snatch it up before there was a long list for it. So, in the end, it was Oprah rather than my friend who convinced me to read McCarthy. And I’m sure he’ll never let me forget it.

I’ve had a couple of days now to think about The Road, and my overwhelming feeling is that I’m glad I read it. I am lucky to be able to read so fast that I can read things that aren’t my taste and not have to labor over them forever. I don’t want to read the same thing all the time, so even though this was challenging in some places, I am glad I did it.

The Road is the post-apocalyptic story of a man and his son who, with what little they have, are journeying on the road to the coast. We don’t know what they will find. They don’t know what, if anything, they will find. But they labor on in hopes of finding something better.

Many people have remarked on the beauty of the father’s love for his son. It’s the only thing that keeps him going – if he was only looking out for himself, he’d have given up long ago. That’s one of the things that makes this such a memorable story, the way the father continues to overcome or find a way around hardship in order to provide for and protect his son.

As I was reading it, I kept thinking that perhaps Oprah had miscalculated, that this book was entirely too bleak for her target audience. (And I have nothing against Oprah or her target audience . . . I have read several Oprah books myself.) I envisioned Oprah’s audience full of women who looked shell-shocked, especially after two scenes in particular. Someone asked me what the point was, and I wasn’t entirely sure. But then, in the last few pages, I did feel like hope broke through, and that was enough to change my outlook on the book.

Something I read about the book talked about the father/son relationship to the rest of the world in terms of Old Testament/New Testament or, more simply, god of wrath/god of mercy. I like that comparison, kind of. The father was clearly willing to do anything to protect his son, and the son, as a young boy who had never known a different life, wanted to give and help people out of what they had. But I wouldn’t say that the lesson in the end was that the boy was right and the father was wrong. It was more that they needed that balance for survival.

We were never told exactly what the disaster was, the point was survival afterwards. For me personally, as a child of the 80s, I appreciated the reminder that all that we have could be taken away in an instant. I have grown up feeling relatively safe and very unconcerned about nuclear holocaust. Any fear that I feel these days is more in terms of a terrorist attack. It was helpful to be reminded of why, exactly, we have to take the threats of Iran and North Korea seriously.

There are some fairly gruesome scenes, which is why I won’t go as far as Oprah and recommend this book, but I do think it’s an important book, beautifully written. Bleak but beautiful.

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