What a book!

April 20, 2010

The Road Less Taken

Filed under: Fiction,Science fiction,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 1:31 am
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bleak (blk) adj. bleak·er, bleak·est

1. Gloomy and somber

2. Providing no encouragement; depressing: no prospects.

3. Cold and cutting; raw.

4. Exposed to the elements; unsheltered and barren.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a clinical sense, mind you.
Quick and Dirty: Through some unexplained global catastrophe, the world has burned and been reduced to nothing but ash. The sky is clogged with it, the sun barely breaking through, and night brings absolute darkness, meaning nothing more will grow. And once the vegetation went, all the animals soon followed, with those not poisoned consumed to extinction. Now, there are only a few bands of humans roaming this lunar-scape and dilapidated husks of civilization, looking and scrabbling for any kind of sustenance, and avoiding each other to make whatever rations found last a little longer, and yes, to keep yourself off someone else’s dinner plate. Among them, a father and son, making their way along our titular road in a desperate journey toward the sea, hoping against hope that things will better over the horizon.
Now, I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic literature in my time but none were more sobering, disheartening and dire than what was represented in these pages. The author hints at some pretty awful things to show how far mankind has fallen, with roving bands of hooligans gone cannibal, which is bad enough, but when you also realize there is only one sustainable and replenishable food source left on the planet, and a lot of these bands consist of women in various stages of pregnancy — yeah, when that was finally and explicitly laid out for me, I had to put the book down for awhile. But, if you’re still with me, here, in these very same pages is a solid and reaffirming story of  familial love, a lasting bond, that survives some astronomical odds.
It took me about 50 pages before the stark and offbeat cadence of McCarthy’s prose gelled properly; prose that is as raw and clipped and emaciated as our weary travelers. (The recent film adaptation stars Viggo Mortenson, and it’s easy to hear him in your mind’s ear narrating the whole thing.) But once you get the beat of it, it works wonderfully as he conjures up such a gloomy and queasy picture — however, this also really helps to punctuate the novels few bright spots, where things actually go well for our troupe. However, those of us who’ve been corrupted by watching too many George Romero flicks know these reprieves won’t last long, and I often found myself at unease, and encouraging them to get moving again before things inevitably go haywire and all is lost. And on the same stroke, to contrast this obviously hopeless journey, the author welds the bond between the man and the boy that helps disperse the darkness.
At least for a little while…
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