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The Road ()

Apocalypse Now: Amid fire and torment, a man and his son endure the end of the world as we know it.: a review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
Concurrent with keeping his son alive is the more metaphysical challenge of sustaining his son's innate goodness while forcing him to witness the corruption of all moral behavior. "Are we still the good guys?" the boy asks in moments of confusion and shock. His father insists they are. "This is what good guys do," he tells him. "They keep trying. They dont give up." Why, then, his son asks, won't he help the stragglers they run across instead of running from them or shooting at them? "We should go to him, Papa. We could get him and take him with us. . . . I'd give that little boy half of my food." How to explain the necessity of abandoning others to certain death (or worse, in one particularly terrifying scene) while maintaining that they're "the good guys," the ones "carrying the fire"?

Under these singularly bleak conditions, the boy's nature -- his impulse to help, his anxiety about stealing others' food -- is, of course, naive. But even when fighting for their lives, his father knows that it's a naiveté inspired by the boy's goodness that makes their fight worthwhile, that allows him to resist the age-old temptation "to curse God and die."

The encounter that illumines the final moments of the novel will infuriate McCarthy die-hards who relish his existential bleakness, but the scene confirms earlier allusions that suggest the roots of this end-of-the-world story reach far past the nuclear age to the apocalypse of Christian faith. The book's climax -- an immaculate conception of Pilgrim's Progress and "Mad Max" -- is a startling shift for McCarthy, but a tender answer to a desperate prayer.

The book allows for a number of readings--though all of them Christian. A fable of the love between Father and Son can't help but be read as a Christian allegory, especially when the boy is referred to as a tabernacle and proclaims: "I am the one."

But I was struck throughout by the obvious way in which the author was challenging existentialism. This is the sort of book the mature Camus would have written to rebut his younger self. In particular, Mr. McCarthy makes the direct argument that the man's love for the boy justifies existence and the selflessness of this love is made apparent by the man's sacrifice. Meanwhile, despite a situation of literal lawlessness, the two characters are continuously bothered by whether their actions conform to objective standards of good. The boy is even more insistent on this point than the man, functioning as a prick to his conscience. In a world where existence has been boiled down to little more than the individual and utter freedom seemingly reigns--the ideal condition for the Existential anti-ethos--our heroes reject individualism and freedom, choosing love and the Law instead.

The unrecognized money shot of the book though may come when the man is remembering a special night on the beach with his wife and recalls that: "he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different." The suggestion is that this moment of beauty and love justifies Creation. Perhaps too the love of the man and the boy does, no matter the circumstances under which it occurs. Or, maybe the story alone does. Were you God, wouldn't the capacity of man for such love justify your Work to you? Despite all the awfulness and evil we're likewise capable of?


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Cormac McCarthy (2 books reviewed)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cormac McCarthy Links: The Official Website of the Cormac McCarthy Society
    -WIKIPEDIA: Cormac McCarthy
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Road
    -BOOK SITE: The Road (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Cormac McCarthy (IMDB)
    -FILM INFO: The Road (2009) (IMDB)
    -PROFILE: Hollywood's Favorite Cowboy: Author Cormac McCarthy, 76, talked about love, religion, his 11-year-old son, the end of the world and the movie based on his novel 'The Road.' He was just getting going. (JOHN JURGENSEN, 11/13/09, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: Ten things that make Cormac McCarthy special: Novelist, recluse... guest on Oprah. Welcome to Cormac McCarthy country (Christopher Goodwin, 1/20/2008, Times of London)
    -PROFILE: A conversation between author Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, about the new movie No Country for Old Men (TIME, 10/18/07)
    -PROFILE: Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey (Michael Conlon, 6/05/07, Reuters)
    -PROFILE: When Oprah Met Cormac: He's no Salinger. (Troy Patterson, June 6, 2007, Slate)
    -PROFILE: Way out, west: The novelist Cormac McCarthy is the best-kept secret of American letters, but his new book could change all that (GORDON BURN, 4/04/93, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Cormac McCarthy (BLAKE MORRISON, 14 August 1994, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Cormac McCarthy: American literature’s great outsider: Few writers have captured the grandeur and cruelty of the American frontier more vividly than Cormac McCarthy. As the film of his novel 'No Country for Old Men' sweeps the Oscars (Boyd Tonkin, 26 February 2008, Independent)
    -ARTICLE: 'The Road' as Outreach? (Lillian Kwon, 11/13/09, Christian Post)
    -ESSAY: Faith, Fear & Cormac McCarthy (Christopher Badeaux, January 7, 2009, The City)
    -ESSAY: The Hugo award winner that spawned a Pulitzer prize winner: Walter M Miller Jr's A Canticle for Leibowitz is a direct ancestor of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (Sam Jordison, 10/28/08, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice: One Writer, Ten Novels, and a Career-Long Obsession (Scott Esposito , Quarterly Conversation)
    -ESSAY: The New Nuke Porn: Our nuclear fantasies have gotten more hard-core. (Ron Rosenbaum, May 8, 2009, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: John Crace saddles his horse and heads into the desert to hunt down Cormac McCarthy's 1985 XXX-rated western, Blood Meridian (John Crace, 9/24/09,
    -ARCHIVES: cormac mccarthy (Daily Telegraph)
    -ARCHIVES: Cormac McCarthy (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: cormac mccarthy (Independent)
    -ARCHIVES: "cormac mccarthy (Slate)
    -ARCHIVES: Cormac McCarthy (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: for The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Phil Christman, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (William Kennedy, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Chris Cleave, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Todd Shy, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Michael Moorhead, Christian Ethics Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Joseph Kugelmass, The Valve)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ten O'Clock Scholar)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Image)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Jennifer Egan, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Slate Audio Book Club)
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    -REVIEW: of The Road (John Holt, California Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Michael Chabon, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Alan Cheuse, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Clive Sinclair, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Ed Caesar, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Mark Holcomb, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Alan Warner, Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (George Monbiot, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Victoria Hoyle and Paul Kincaid, Strange Horizons)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Fl;orence Williams, Outside)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Benjamin Whitmer, Modern Word)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Dierdre Donahue, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Chris Barsanti, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (David Hellman, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Niall Griffiths, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Charles McGrath, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of The Road ()
    -REVIEW: of The Road (Gordon Hauptfleisch, Blog Critics)
    -REVIEW: of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (James Wood, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of No Country (John Freeman, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Crossing (Anthony Quinn, Independent)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Cormac McCarthy (IMDB)
    -FILM INFO: The Road (2009) (IMDB)

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