Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Unforgettable Road

You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
~ Father to son

There are two main characters in “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s shattering novel of a gray and perilous post-nuclear world. The reader never learns the names of “the man” and “the boy,” but rarely has such a primal, personal connection with main characters been so deftly forged by an author’s pen.

The story of a father and his son, traveling along a road often strewn with horror and fraught with danger, is gripping from the first page. When the story opens, the nuclear Armageddon that blasted the world to ashes is already years in the past. The particulars are not dwelt upon, nor do they matter. The heart and soul of the story is the fierce love and devotion shared by these two lonely survivors.

As they struggle together on their journey, constantly encountering new and daunting problems, the father and son share short, terse rounds of conversation that reveal, in bare-bones understatement, the depths of their emotions. The son is full of questions and worries; the father answers in a calm and neutral manner. Creating dialog that rings true in such an unimaginable setting is the hallmark of McCarthy’s brilliance. So, too, are his vividly poetic, often breathtaking descriptions of an ashen earth, fading to dust.

The father is a full-blooded hero, vigilant, resourceful, unforgiving of himself, driven to preserve his son at any cost. The son is a marriage of vulnerability and strength, adoring of the father who protects him and terrified of losing him. The characters are clearly drawn with stark and simple lines. To convey so much with so few words is genius.

Any parent can relate to the terrifying responsibility of trying to care for and protect a child in the anarchy of such a world, just as any child can relate to the paralyzing fear of losing a guardian in such circumstances. As you travel “The Road,” you come to know and care deeply for these two lost souls as they surmount each difficulty and journey onward to their ultimate fate.

I can not remember the last time a book’s closing pages moved me so powerfully. I’ll say no more, except to note that Cormac McCarthy’s “Road” certainly is one worth traveling--every painful, emotional, unforgettable inch of it.