Read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. That Is a Command.

I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road last night. What a novel. I don’t have any words to say about it that haven’t already been said by other reviewers, but an especially good explication comes from another Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, Michael Chabon. His essay “After the Apocalypse” appeared in the New York Review of Books in February of last year. It makes for some good chewy stuff when one fine writer writes about another fine writer, and this is no exception. The entire essay is worth reading in its own right, but I’ve included a few good quotes below, which have to do with the paradoxes at the heart of the novel. Enjoy.

McCarthy is ensnared and his hell undone by the paradox that lies at the heart of every story of apocalypse. The only true account of the world after a disaster as nearly complete and as searing as the one McCarthy proposes, drawing heavily on the “nuclear winter” scenario first proposed by Carl Sagan and others, would be a book of blank pages, white as ash. But to annihilate the world in prose one must simultaneously write it into being. Thus even an act of stylistic denial as extreme as McCarthy’s here—the densely foliated sentences of Suttree and Blood Meridian, teeming with allusion and inhabited by exotic nouns and rare adjectives, are burned away; the chapters and scenes broken down into fragments and rubble—remains, in spite of itself, an affirmation. The paradox of language undoing the death it deals animates every passage of the novel.

* * *

The paradox in every part and sentence of the post-apocalyptic narrative—evoking even as it denies—is repeated as if fractally by The Road as a whole. The son has wearied of his father’s stories of the past, of deeds of heroism and goodness, of the world that no longer exists—”Those stories are not true,” he complains—but he has none of his own to offer. He leads an all but storyless existence in which meaning, motivation, and resolution have no place and nothing to do. And yet of course the only way McCarthy has of laying this tragic state before us is through storytelling, through craft and incident and a layered, tightly constructed narrative that partakes of the epic virtue it attempts to abnegate.

Also of note, there’s a movie in the works. Viggo Mortensen to play the father.


3 comments so far

  1. Levi on

    Have you checked out Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union? It’s up for the 2008 Nebula Award (best Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction chosen by members of the guild). That fellow seems to be on a bit of a roll himself!

  2. jeffreimer on

    I’ve been waiting for it to come out in paperback for, like, a thousand years. But it looks like the paperback edition will be out on April 29. It’s about time! The Cohen brothers are also making a movie of it.

  3. Levi on

    The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is out in paperback!

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