Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Road (copy)

Oprah’s book club is back! Her first contemporary fiction since 2002, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, is unlike any previous club selection. The only other Oprah selection I can vaguely compare it with is She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Like author Lamb, who deprives his main character, Dolores Price, of any joy until the very last pages, McCarthy is stingy with the hope.

The Road is a bleak, post-apocalyptic quest for basic survival. The plot is simple; a father and son must journey from the cold north into the warmer south before winter. They set out on foot with a grocery cart full of canned foods, a revolver holding two bullets, a lighter, some blankets, and sturdy shoes. By the mother’s choice, she and the third bullet will not make the journey.

The reader is not privy to the apocalypse. McCarthy doesn’t add that to the story. On some arbitrary date, at 1:17 p.m., the clocks stop and the world enshrouds in a nuclear winter. The father’s memory is even less detailed with his cryptic, “dull rose glow in the windowglass.” He also briefly mentions the hoards of refugees begging along the roadside, long dead now.

Just what is a nuclear winter? The American Meteorology Society defines it as, “surface cooling that might result from the emission of extensive clouds of smoke (from burning cities, fuel sites, and forests) following the detonation of hundreds of warheads in a nuclear exchange.” In praise of McCarthy’s style, the reader will experience this gritty, wind-blown world and feel weighed down by the ash.

The Road is no Sunday cruise. The man and boy, remaining nameless throughout the book, must avoid all “bad guys.” The reader will find McCarthy’s world full of them. The “bad guys,” and this is disturbing on so many levels, are people who eat other people.

Okay, stop right there. I’m not reading any depressing book where people are eating people! What is Oprah thinking?

Please, don’t let that discourage you. McCarthy is a master and this may be his finest work. As a reader, come prepared for the desolation and inhumanity, but also be ready to join in their plight. By page 50, one will realize they have projected their own hope onto the travelers.

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