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You Really Ought to Read The Road

In Books on December 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm

No, I haven’t seen the movie, and oddly, I don’t want to. I did enjoy Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, immensely, though. Well, maybe “enjoy” is the wrong word, as so much in the novel is rather dark and nasty, but it does dark and nasty really, really well.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a father and son making their way through an utterly dead post-apocalyptic landscape, and that’s pretty much it. The back of the book describes it as “burned America,” but I think that such characterization misses the point. The ravaged landscape didn’t so much remind me of a post-apocalyptic America so much as it did Mordor. Yes, I mean that. The father and son in The Road reminded me most of Frodo and Sam in Mordor, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Through a hopeless landscape, through uncertainty, danger, fear, and anxiety, the two principals have no choice but to move forward. They have no idea what their goal is, what will happen at the end, or whether they have the strength or ability to get to where they’re going. But, standing still is not an option. They are driven, compelled, to some uncertain goal. It also reminded me of Kafka’s The Castle, as well, wherein the main character must navigate through a clouded and hostile landscape to an uncertain conclusion.

Despite the immensely negative worlds that these stories present, I generally find them rather hopeful. The heroes are in Hell, the underworld, a bleak place, yes, and their is no guarantee that they shall reach their goals. But, they know what their goals are, they have no option but to strive. Whether it’s truly hopeless or not can’t be known, so Sisyphus has to push the rock upward. He has to. It will crush him if he lets go.

So, if you like books about pressing through fear and dread, read it. It’s not nearly as good as Blood Meridian (one of the best and most frightening books I’ve ever read) but it does depict the classic landscape of anxiety in a pretty perfect way.

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