On “The Road” again

I just finished rereading Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road.

I did so for a book club coming up later this month. Don’t misunderstand. I have not joined a book club. Such an act would go against my Gen X lineage. No. I simply plan to sit in. For Cormac McCarthy I would do that. We’ll see how it goes.

As always I wept at the end of the story, when the man realizes that he is dying and when the boy has to say goodbye to his father. And when the boy is welcomed into the arms of a woman who is part of a clan of people that can take him — the good guys, the boy decides they are worthy to be called. A tragic story but beautiful too, and ultimately hopeful. Not easy to pull off when one is essentially writing about the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. But perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Who knows?

I’ve written previously that I consider The Road to be a X Lit novel. I still maintain that belief. For the simple reason that when I was younger I, and other people that I knew, fretted about the end of the world, specifically via a nuclear war, which is suggested at in this novel. It’s a theme that comes up in Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X as well, visions and fears of the end of the world. Also, I consider Cormac McCarthy himself to be an Xer of sorts. At the age of 74 he doesn’t really qualify as a member of Generation X by standard definitions, but if you consider being Gen X to be more a way of looking at the world then I think he more than qualifies. His status as a writer of serious fiction qualifies him, but also he has spent a good part of his life opting out of mainstream life, at one time living in a wood shack with a dirt floor. Living on the margins of society is a big part of Coupland’s novel and thus part of the Xer ethos. McCarthy continues to live more or less marginally. He rarely gives interviews and prefers to not move in modern literary circles. He resides in the desert in New Mexico. All this has an air of X to it as far as I am concerned.

But of course, The Road is more than an example of X Lit. It is a remarkable novel and much more complex than that. At it’s core it is a domestic tale, about a parent trying to raise a child in an uncertain world, a theme so universal it seems almost ridiculously obvious. It is also a tale of survival, and the lengths human beings will go to continue living. Some people slip to the depths of degradation while others, like the man and his boy, struggle to maintain their humanity and some notion of grace. In fact, at times during the novel it is difficult to tell who is really looking out for whom. Of course, the reality is that the man and the boy are looking out for each other, in different ways. The father’s task is essentially about physical survival — food, shelter, clothing, etc. Whereas the boy’s concerns seem to be more spiritual, for their souls and humanity. Both the father’s and the boy’s concerns are legitimate and important, both are necessary, and yet they are at times in direct opposition to one another. And I think that as much as anything is what makes this novel great.

I admit that I am hesitant to attend the book club while at the same time eager to hear what other people think of the story.


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