The Road of Cormac McCarthy

So I just finished McCarthy’s The Road last night. I didn’t mean to finish it last night, I meant to start it, but by midnight I was convinced that it was good enough to lose sleep over. And the rest of the book certainly didn’t disappoint. Here’s a few bullet-pointed thoughts:

  • The most common dialogue between the son and father is “okay.” Rather ironic for such a hauntingly dark postapocalyptic tale.
  • The book’s obsession with food – missing it, finding it, describing it, eating it – turns every meal into a sacramental act, laden with the symbolism of memory and love.
  • What is most intriguing about this novel is not what is included, but what is excluded – McCarthy writes with enviable restraint. In a lesser novelist’s hands, it would have doubled in size to include much more backstory, internals, and explanation of the plague.
  • The religious element is pronounced – both anger towards God and the child associating his father with God – but mainly at the beginning and end of the novel. God is slipped in subtly in the middle – as curses referencing Christ or as references to Job: “Curse God and die.”

The story is told in fragments, and here’s an excerpt:

There was a skylight about a third of the way down the roof and he made his way to it in a walking crouch. The cover was gone and the inside of the trailer smelled of wet plywood and that sour smell he’d come to know. He had a magazine in his hip pocket and he took it out and tore some pages from it and wadded them and got out his lighter and lit the papers and dropped them into the darkness. A faint whooshing. He wafted away the smoke and looked down into the trailer. The small fire burning in the floor seemed a long way down. He shielded the glare of it with his hand and when he did he could see almost to the rear of the box. Human bodies. Sprawled in every attitude. Dried and shrunken in their rotten clothes. The small wad of burning paper drew down to a wisp of flame and then died out leaving a faint pattern for just a moment in the incandescence like the shape of a flower, a molten rose. Then all was dark again.

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