If he is not the word of God God never spoke.
— The Road. Father, about his son.
I don’t believe I’ve ever cried over a book before.
Perhaps I have, and forgotten. Certainly I’ve been sad, but never like this. When this one was done I sat weeping uncontrollably for fifteen minutes. The kind of blowout cry a child has when the loss seems irreparable and there’s no one to turn to for comfort.
I was alone, but soon after saw Nora.
I finished the book.
Why do you read that?
It’s a question I asked myself several times along the way. For those who don’t know, The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s 2006, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a nameless man and his young son walking along a road. The earth has suffered some unimaginable catastrophe. Most life has been burned away. The sun hides behind a blanket of grey. Nothing grows. The few people left hide from one another, when they’re not trying to kill one another.
The man and the boy are moving south through an ashen landscape looking for what they don’t know, something better, the good guys, something green. They eat food from old tins, when they can find them, scrounged from abandoned houses. Mostly they don’t eat.
What is there to recommend in such a book?
There is, first, the father’s love for the boy, and the boy’s love for his father. It’s a fierce love, stark and elemental, a love with everything unessential stripped away, just as the biosphere of the earth has here been stripped away. The transcendence of such love bores straight into the reader’s soul. It’s the kind of love a parent has for a defenseless infant, the kind I still can remember and feel for my son.
I’m scared, says the boy.
I know, says the man, holding him.
What more is there?
I understand, following the story of what this man does for this boy, how a parent will endure any horror, will make any sacrifice, will never give up.
ROME AFTER THE BARBARIANS
I like listening to books, and listened to this one in my car driving to and from work. Because the world has fallen apart before, and threatens to again, it was no stretch to suspend my disbelief of this conjured earth. I know, or should know, we live on luck and borrowed time. For we are—where did I read it?—the dirt under God’s fingernail.
I go to the grocery store and come back with a bag full. I turn the tap and water flows. I flip on the light. I sleep in my own bed. Miracles. The second reason I recommend the book. To pierce the veil of assumption and entitlement and force an apprehension of everything taken for granted.
It’s not an intellectual appreciation. McCarthy’s literary gift makes the awareness visceral. How simple my needs. How vapid and banal, sometimes, the upwardly mobile metaphors propelling my desires.
Every day I got home after listening to a chapter of this book, I wanted to find Nick, hold him, kiss him, press him close to my body. I had to protect him from — what? Everything was normal, fine. The vivid and continuous dream of the novel existed only in my mind. Nick was Nick, playing with Legos, eating a peach, safe.
Hi dada, he said.
Hi Nick, I said.
The greatest works of art make you see differently. Nothing changes. Everything changes.
Every precious moment.
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Cormack McCarthy website – He is, I think, our greatest contemporary novelist.
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