Monday, 27 April 2009
I've just read The Road, a haunting, post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy. While it describes momentous events, it does so through the very intimate story of a man and his son as they struggle to survive. In McCarthy's story, the only good thing left in the devastated world is the father's love for his son and the son's love for his father. They walk a deserted highway, scavenging for whatever food they can find, hiding from roving bands of cannibals, and hoping that somewhere there might be others like themselves.
The subject might seem like a departure from McCarthy's usual novels set among cowboys and ranchers in the American West, but his themes of physical survival, forces of nature, love, fate, and moral goodness run through it. And his descriptive language is just as rich and evocative as always. Below are some samples to whet your appetite.
"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one that what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looks toward the east for any light but there was none...."
"When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of colour. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose of the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. he knew only the the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke."
"They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he'd seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land....the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through he streets like squid ink uncoiling along a seafloor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond."