Where This Meets That
Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road is a powerful tribute to everything we take for granted.
The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic American south, where we join a man and his son on a journey by foot from Appalachia to the coast. The landscape is lifeless and ash gray, left for dead by an unnamed apocalypse. The rare remaining human life is either roaming bands of cannibals or walking corpses just waiting to be subdued by the former. The man carries a gun loaded with only two bullets, one for him and for his son should they be overcome.
McCarthy paradoxically exposes the beauty of our world by snuffing it out of the world in the novel. A good artist understands the importance of subtlety; he doesn’t draw a line as much as he insinuates it. McCarthy demonstrates this skill masterfully in The Road, resisting the urge to even tell us the characters’ names.
We remember the world of today only through the dreams of the father, dreams he considers nightmares for their beauty.
Beauty no longer exists except to us, the readers. For us, beauty remains in the love between the father and the son and the simple determination to survive. McCarthy describes the man and the boy as “each the other’s world entire”; their love alone, even up against the nuclear winter they face, is reason enough to live.
John Hillcoat’s 2008 film version of the novel featured plenty of star power and a faithful adaptation of the storyline but failed to duplicate the success of the novel. No surprise there, really, because so much of the novel’s power is internal to the characters. Viggo Mortensen was fantastic as the man, but McCarthy’s subtle character constructs defy even the finest attempt to portray on film. Unlike McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, which went on to win an Oscar for Best Motion Picture, The Road is purely a novel and works best on those merits.
I picked up The Road as we set forth to Pigeon Forge, TN for a family vacation. From the opening page, I was mesmerized. Coincidentally, our trip took us very near the same areas hinted at in the book, so when the characters see the barn with “See Rock City” painted on it, I felt like we had just passed that barn, which certainly resonated in my reading. By the time we returned home only a few days later, I had finished the book.
That night, I began reading it with my son. Within a few more nights, we had completed it together. Reading this tale of a father’s boundless love for his son with my own son was a profoundly moving experience, and one I recommend to other fathers I know (when their son is enough).