Monday, June 04, 2007

The Road

I finished up “The Road” by Cormick Macarthy. I haven’t read anything else by him, but I really liked The Road, despite its endorsement by Oprah’s book club.


To be sure, the novel is pretty brutal…its set in the future, in a mad-max like world where everything; cities, forests, land has been reduced to a ash-drifted wasteland where the survivors of some global devastation (asteroid, nuclear war – you’re never actually told the cause of the annihilation) are forced to live in.

An unnamed man and a little boy are forced down a road, scavenging for their lives, all the time avoiding death squads and being un-trusting of anyone else on the road. They see the brutal realities of humanity starving to death, the inhumane treatment of people, the sheer desolation and destruction of the world, and they are forced to deal with their own existence. In a post-world-ending annihilation, what is the point of life?

Of course the reason I think this book earned Oprah’s endorsement is because of the relationship of the man and boy…They live entirely for each other…that is the point of their lives. The boy is dependent on the man, and the man is entirely dependent on the boy. In a future so bleak, what else is there? If you cannot depend on the people you are traveling with, if their well-being is not a reason for living, then what is the reason for living?

Towards the end of the book you worry about the boy “what if the man dies? That kid is fucked!” and “if the boy dies, the man might as well drown himself rather than spend the rest of his waking life lamenting the death of all that he loved and walking around looking for shitty canned meats”. Both are depressing prospects that left me wondering as much about what happens after the last scene in the book as what really does happen at the end.

I’ve never read anything else by Cormick McCarthy, and I really liked the bleak, blunt, and dramatic writing style..everything is short, quick and to the point. Its written like how I imagined the world he created to be…no need for long flowery descriptions of scenery or of the characters, because the earth is just dead, and the characters are faceless minions.

I read one Amazon reviewer where someone hated the book because if you turn to every page you can’t escape this list of adjectives: Dark, ashen, dead, grey, dying, and damp….but I think that’s precisely the point, how else can you describe the landscape? How more bleak and foreboding can you make it besides using these stark and repetitive descriptions? The world IS Dark, ashen, dead, grey, dying, and damp. There’s nothing else to describe, no trees, no green fields, no sunny days, no white fences, red barns and rolling country sides just dead ground. No bustling cities, no buildings, no white boats bobbing up and down on the docks, just ashen waste.

Finally, some of the discussions I’ve seen online talk about what the cause of the global destruction..if you consider for a minute that there was a HUGE meteor that hit the earth, caused global firestorms and climate change that decimated the entire world, and created the world of The Road, then how interesting is it to try and think about the meteor that killed the dinosaurs?

Is the Road similar to the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago? Did dinosaurs face the same unending overcast skies, cold damp rains and dying plants? If you take out the characters in the road, and then put dinosaurs in there, have like 3 beers and turn the lights out while listening to GodSpeed! You Black Emperor albums, you can really imagine what it might have been like back at the end of the Cretaceous.

What if it really happens to humans - the earth is hit by an asteroid? Are we truly as susceptible to destruction as the Dinosaurs? Are our populations and technological successes, similar to the size and proliferation of dinosaurs (and indeed, much of the life during the Mesozoic), as fragile as they turned out to be? What if humanities destiny is merely to occupy a sequence of fractured strata that will be later unearthed and pondered like so many geologists now?

I went on an SEPM field trip (the 1997 trip) in the Midwest back in college and the trip was focused on an Ordovician sequence of rocks in which there are several groups of fossils present in the lower levels, and then absent in the upper, temporally later sequence. The data and interpretation presented was that there was an extinction event between these fossil sequences…I sometimes think about that sequence…it was one of the first and only times that geology was so plain, so dramatic, and so readily apparent to me. It was the first time I actually looked at rocks and what was in them and started to try and imagine and think about them as a story. Since it was so old, there wasn’t a whole lot of information about the cause of the extinction (or maybe I just don’t remember). What the hell happened to kill so many little critters?

A digression there I guess…kind of a rambling shitty post, but hey, I’m trying to get back into the swing of this shit.

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