Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review: The Road

     The post that follows this one was probably influenced by the fact that I just finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  It was loaned to me by my Uncle Frank--we are related by marriage only, but he is my favorite.  After watching the film, "No Country For Old Men," which I thought was great, I was keen to examine McCarthy's other works.  The film was excellent, I think because of both acting and direction.  Javier Bardem was especially fine, I thought, because he doesn't seem like the type to play the character, yet he does so so believably.  Even this is realistic because it is not rugged looks that make a warrior or a psychopath--it is mentality.  The Road was dark, yet worth reading--definitely worth reading!  It is about a father and son trying to survive and make their way to the coast in a post-apocalyptic/cataclysmic world.  The world they travel has become lifeless and gray--they cannot see the sun, which suggests a nuclear catastrophe or meteoric collision. 

     The story is hard to read because is it so terrible and depressing, yet one cannot turn away.  This is because we come to care about these two characters: father and son, a loving relationship in a cold, dying world.  Desperation has driven people to such atrocities that they can trust no one.  The landscape has become so lifeless and denuded that starvation is an ever-present concern.  What will happen to these two?  I won't spoil it for you.  I will say that the book is an exploration of the value of human civilization and sensibilities.  Is this value real or imagined?  How strong or fragile is it?  It calls to mind the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:2) "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."  It is a tough subject to tackle, but it is worth tackling and tackled here quite well.  McCarthy reminds me some of Poe--he is concerned with the health of the human soul.  In the battle between good and evil, he sees the evil quite well, but cannot dismiss the good.  In this book that good is the love of one human for another.

     Some may find this book too dark and disturbing to read.  What is described is very extreme--it serves a literary purpose not a scientific one.  I do not suggest such a scenario is impossible, but nearly so.  Even the meteor strike that some scientists suspect led to the extinction of the dinosaurs did not kill off life on the Earth--not by a longshot!  In fact, some scientists believe that birds really are dinosaurs, which suggests that some made and some didn't.  I eat sprouts, so I sprout seeds from time to time.  You can never get all the seeds to sprout at the same time.  There are something called "hard seeds" that will not sprout until much later than the others regardless of conditions.  These "deviants" are insurance against plants being wiped out by variations in weather.  It may be a pain to farmers and gardeners trying to carefully control their crops, but not to Nature.  The planet is resilient, but human civilization is fragile.  It takes a lot less than an apocalypse to make it come unhinged.  It is based on human agreement, trust and cooperation and once that is lost all bets are off. It is this same bond that brings humanity back from the brink when things fall apart, and they have several times in the past.


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