Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a man and his son, trying to stay alive in a rapidly dying, post-apocalyptic world. The sun is always hidden by clouds, everything is dried up and dying, covered with ash. There are still people, a few, but of the survivors, a fair number have resorted to their worst impulses. Cannibalism, slavery, makeshift armies marching in search of, whatever is left to take, basically.

Through all this, the man and the boy are headed for the coast. Almost constantly on the verge of starvation, the man already steadily declining in health, no guarantees the coast is going to be any better. The man is trying to teach the boy to be good, but this comes with complications. If they're the "good guys", as they insist, they should help people, other good guys at least. But their ability to help is limited, it isn't easy to discern good guys, and the man has one overarching prerogative: protect the boy, and if that isn't possible, grant a quick death.

Not a hopeful book. The world isn't going to magically be fixed, except perhaps by time. They manage to keep stumbling on just enough food at the right time to keep going, but it feels like postponing the inevitable. But I like how McCarthy writes the boy, the way he occasionally uses phrases you wouldn't expect, that he must have heard his father or mother say at some point.

There's a shift in the relationship between the two after the man comes down with the flu for several days. The boy is a little more independent, more willing to stride ahead and leave his father pushing the cart full of their possessions. Prior to that, the boy had disagreed with some of his father's decisions, pleaded with him, but ultimately fell into step, because he was still just a scared kid. That still happens after the sick spell, but not as much. The man is more vulnerable, the boy was able to successfully care for him, and the boy is probably starting to accept things he knew on some level. He knew about his father's coughing fits in the night, but didn't comment on them until near the end. The kid's preparing himself for the end (I wonder if his father sad anything while sick that helped prompt it).

The dialogue is spare, the boy's unusual phrasing choices aside, but the man's internal monologue can get highly descriptive, or meditative. But he's had years to mull over this world, so I wonder how many times he's gone over the same ground in his mind.

'Finally he put it out of his mind. The notion there could be anything to correct for. His mind was betraying him. Phantoms not heard from in a thousand years slowly rousing from their sleep. Correct for that.'

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