The Road of Our Future?

I’ve wanted to read this book since Jefito wrote about it on Goodreads. J bought it, read it, and did a wonderful review that made me put away a book on The Mayflower I was reading and dig in for the hellish journey down The Road.

First off, this is a pretty quick read and you could probably finish it in a few hours of afternoon reading. And you’ll probably do just that because the book is compelling, powerful, bleak, but also life affirming.

One would not think the author of this gruesome tale of a father and son trying to survive in a post-nuclear holocaust world, where gangs of cannibals dot death-filled landscape, would even tread into the realm of life affirmation. However, since his prose is so taut, it lends itself to a great deal of scrutiny when it comes to interpreting the themes the novel presents to us.

Humanity – and indeed almost all life – is in the last stages of being, but the Will to Life is present in its most ugly and desperate forms. The protagonist known as “The Man” or “Papa” is suffering a chronic illness as he struggles to get his son (who was born shortly after the nuclear apocalypse) to a warmer climate by traveling down the remnants of a highway as a nuclear winter encroaches. The landscape along the way is testament to “what was” with charred cities, scorched trees, and abandoned homes. Also, an ever-persistent ash in the atmosphere blocks the sun from fully illuminating the earth, resulting in gray days and black nights. The day-to-day struggle to survive in an environment where even animal life is almost extinct means finding bits of nourishment from canned goods (like the protagonists do), or resorting to cannibalism. Several near-death episodes occur in the book, and each one is more harrowing than the previous. If you can stomach the gruesome scenes McCarthy uses to punctuate the lengths people will go to just to survive, you may see parallels between the world McCarthy creates and the fate of the dinosaurs during their final gasps on earth millions of years ago.

Life after the dinosaurs did go on. It took millions of years for more complex life forms like humans to evolve, but it did. McCarthy’s tale ends on an oblique note (in terms of his prose), but read more thematically, he’s basically saying that as human life fades out of existence (and all the things we culturally construct and give meaning to), somewhere in the depths of this world, life will go on. Relics of humanity’s time on the earth will most likely stick out as derelict postmodern signs of some past age for millions of years. But they will be meaningless as the maze of life reconfigures into a matrix that is as alien to us as the pre-holocaust world was to the “Boy” in The Road.

–PK

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