Thoughts on The Road

Recently, our book club* read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It's still with me--I haven't been able to move our copy to a shelf, although I pick it up to try. Then I flip through it again and return it to the coffee table.  

Not gonna lie, I was nervous about reading it. Back in the days of All The Pretty Horses, my reader friends said of his work, "It's really good, but it's bleak." 

And then along came No Country for Old Men, which I didn't see or read for the same reason. 

So, 2021: Did we really need more bleak? In fact, the book club actually picked all our books in June of 2020, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't be wanting to read about bleakness. But thank goodness for vaccines.

And when the book club picks a difficult book to read together--well, isn't that the point of the book club in the first place?

So, if "enjoy" is the right word to use to describe this book, I enjoyed it. It's thought-provoking, and challenging, and illuminating. Here are some other random thoughts.

Writers hear "trust your reader" a lot, and this writer really does. Only on page 53 do we get the first hint of a flashback to explain what could have happened. And by then, it didn't matter to me--the world we were in with the man and the boy, walking down the road heading south, was enough. 

In fact, I was never quite sure whether it was worse when I thought there maybe weren't other people left alive, or when I knew there were. 

So many amazing quotes. 

"All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. When you've nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them" (p. 74).

Also, did I mention, in terms of "trust the reader": this writer assumes some basic knowledge of the Western European canon--like the Christian Bible (though perhaps familiarity with only that part that Christians call the Old Testament would be enough). 

Here's a thought guaranteed to spark fear in the heart of a writer. 

"He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light."

It's true--we do write because we think people "now," whenever "now" is (also a meditation in the book), might read it. And people in some future. But what if there isn't a future?

And this quote that sticks with me: "What you put in your head is there forever."

I think about this often, too--especially at the 100-year-mark of the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre and the recent discovery of children's graves in Canada at a former residential school. I won't look away. And at the same time, I always need to be mindful about voyeurism. I'm not a spectator to these histories. I'm not powerless. 

Even this man and boy, when they'd lost the world they'd known and even their trust in others, made a life for themselves. They insisted on being together, being a family, carrying the fire. 

The other quote that sticks: "Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again." 

Maybe we're that goodness. May we be that goodness.   

*Note: for some reason, "book club" is the acceptable and appropriate term in Canada; "book group" is preferred in the U.S. Using the wrong term on the wrong side of the border will get you some supercilious glances.