I woke up the other morning at 4:00 and was inexplicably wide awake and refreshed. By my bedside was Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road. So I got up and grabbed a cat and made some coffee and sat in bed and read the book. At 7:00, when it was time to quickly get dressed and go to work, I finished the book. It's a stunning story. The only McCarthy I'd read before was All the Pretty Horses, and while I don't remember much about it I do remember that the language was intricate and fascinating. I haven't been tempted to read any of his since. But this one called out to me, and I ordered it online (yes, you can get new books at a discount from wonderful online booksellers, namely Powells.com, which is my choice over Amazon.)
I think I'll have to read it again, to really savor it and remember details. It's a post-apocalyptic story, very bleak and almost hopeless, but whether or not you take the ending as a hope of some better future for the human race (one reviewer speaks of a deus ex machina at the very end, a criticism that suggests a copout on the part of the writer), what transforms the black ash bleakness of the story is the relationship of love and the dogged going-on of the father and small son. Whatever is to happen next is left to our imagination. Rather than doing a copout, I think McCarthy wants us to ponder the possibilities forever. After all, an open-ended story lingers in one's mind a long time, possibly forever, something I realized at age 14 when I read Gone With the Wind.
The world of the novel is desperate and desolate and dangerous. And yet the father holds his child's hand and keeps going, toward the coast. As you read, you think, but why? what will they find but more desolation? But some essential life energy keeps them going, and the father's love for his son and the son's trust in his father. "We're the good guys, right?" "Right." To his father's insistence that they keep on going, the son always replies, "Okay." It's hope still working in a hopeless world, and the trust of a child in his parent.
And let me be maybe the first in cyberspace to link this book to two other haunting books, both by Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker and The Mouse and His Child. The former is an obvious connexion: the post-apocalytic world. But although the journey of the Mouse and his Child is set in an un-ruined world, it's still a story of love and hope in a bleak and confusing landscape. So far, a Google search to link the Mouse to this new novel yields no results. We'll see if it strikes anyone else. I've put it out on the kraken, the Hoban group on the web.