The Road – Little Bits of Haiku for the Apocalypse

I’m a little late to this book. It sat there in my pile of things to read, CDs listen to, bills to pay, songs to finish, laundry to fold…meanwhile I find 15 minutes to slap up blog posts. I did not come to this book as a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, though I feel this might change a bit. I’ve only read 1 or 2 other books and I am aware that this is a departure from earlier work.

But I’m glad I waited. This book hit me at just the right time, it seems. I’m not 100% certain of what I mean by that; maybe any time I chose to read it would have felt like the right time. But this book spoke to me on a fundamental level and has heightened certain essential components of my consciousness.

I read it last week in a matter of a night or two. The last thing I expected was a page-turner. But I gather this is the reaction of many people who have read it. It compels readers for various reasons, some feeling that they are even responsible for helping the characters along, which is a notion that is both absurd and deeply true of any book. Like the tree that falls in the forest, e.g. I don’t let myself get overexposed to reviews and criticism of books or movies. I don’t want a story spoiled in advance, but more importantly, I don’t my own perception clouded by judgments made by others. After forming my own opinion, I seek out those same reviews, at least in channels I trust. I want to compare notes.

I am being elliptical. I think all of this preface is just me avoiding the real topic, that is how profoundly moving I found The Road. Certainly being a father has a lot to do with my extreme reaction. But I have not shaken the effects of having read this now 4 days after the fact. But more significantly is that I don’t think I will ever forget it. I think the emotions will become less acute, but the overarching theme, the poetry of the prose, the philosophy behind the story, the allegories and the story itself…

I am torn between re-reading it immediately and trying to move on. Seriously. It was a physical involvement, reading it. I don’t know that I can recommend it to everyone who reads this site. I guess I’m more eager to hear from others who have read it.

17 thoughts on “The Road – Little Bits of Haiku for the Apocalypse”

  1. rich's brother said

    sounds like a real good read Bill……I’m kind of looking for a distraction from all the political bs these days.

    Perhaps it will give me inspiration to start something Ive been considering for some time: putting my reflections of life into words. I think they call it an autobiography. Actually, it was Bill Clinton who suggested people do it……somethng to leave for other generations. Im not convinced Im going to be one to live to see old bones, unlike my grandmother who passed last year a week shy of 101.

    This author probably gets more philisophical than I ever could but the directions of his insight might sort of open up my mind………

  2. Bill-Intense emotion is the right description for this book, it ruined me for a few days due to the graphic nature of some of the scenes but man, what a book. I felt the same way after I read Saramago’s Blindness the first time.

  3. rich's brother said

    Hey……what happened to all the threads?

    It is indeed so ironic that it is always those on the far left who commit the most egregious acts in terms of free speech. Those on the far left most resemble what is known as a fascist mindset = speak in my language or dont speak at all. And are they not the ones you most often hear saying, “We must all preach tolerance!”

    Yup ahhhhh ( draws long toke on cigarette in classic Denis Leary fashion )

    “Tolerance” is, and has always been and empty slogan used by the far left.

    Indeed……..they are the least tolerant people of all!!!


  4. hey rich (brother?), I do understand that you’re completely out of your mind. So I am not sure why I am replying. I have not read one of your posts in a long time, though I admit to getting the gist of most of them as I check in to see if anyone else is commenting. Honestly, I have not even checked to see if you liked The Road or not, because it doesn’t matter.

    But I knew someone (you or your brother) would incorrectly and on cue respond knee-jerkingly to the removal of the posts such as you did. So I will take the opportunity to point out that I never once removed your posts or anyone else’s until I removed the entirety (including MY posts) of all outdated current events/political/non-pop-culture posts. This is a blog, not a granite etching of Big Ideas Regarding Current Events and I want people to be able to roll through the (my) posts regarding music, books, etc. that should stay interesting to some. I do like to elicit discussion. But once it is past its freshness date, it gets deleted. No offense and nothing aimed specifically at your mavericky and deeply considered rants. Indeed, I removed outdated posts at my real estate blog at the same time. The stuff becomes clutter, redundant (the hilarious Palin video was soon on every site on the web, e.g.) and noise (the latter of which you seem to be particularly adept at).

    So,just so the readers know: my posts and those comments of others will not be here in perpetuity.

    Rich/brother, while you are looking for some other place to illuminate those of us on the right side of history with your tone-deaf opinions, take some time to look up the definitions of, “irony,” “fascism,” “tolerance,” (as in, “Bill tolerated the seemingly Fascist rants which ironically elicited silly comments from people he wished would go away”) and read the First Amendment which does not read, in any section of the clause, that “Bill Janovitz shall not remove any of his posts from his blog, particularly the drunken blatherings of Yankee fans/disillusioned Bush apologists.”

    And political comments will be removed from non-politcal posts. I reserve the right to remove any comments that I deem inappropriate for my site(s). I welcome you to start your own blog and then let me know how many people come to read it. You guys can at least blog to each other.

  5. rich's brother said

    Bill…….thanks for the explanation………and Im serious.
    In the end, the reality is that the country will never look like the way either of us envision it. That’s politics…..they make sure they throw little bones to everybody, as Obama will moving forward.

    That said Bill, I think the point Rich and I try to make on here is that we can have a wonderfully spirited debate on anything from baseball to social policy. It doesnt change the fact that me, Rich and my other brothers have a profound level of respect for the music you make. To us, you are one of the icons….making music that has influenced us every bit as much as Pete T, Mick J, Jerry G et. al. The shows we have seen over the years in NYC are amongst our best of memories. Since the early 90’s, it is rare we can get together so shows become for us more of a major event than a concert. We actually have video from back around 1994 out in Ammaghansett of us hanging out in a beach house with LMCO blasting from a box. We’re walking around this place all playing soaring air guitar. The best of times for us…….we all had lots of hair. None now.

    Back in ’97, I distinctly remember a show at the Mercury Lounge…..the show ended with “Crutch” and you staying on stage after Chris and Tom had walked off. You did some feedback/sustain stuff for about 2 minutes, placed your guitar on the ground and walked off the stage. Ive forgoten about more concerts than most people have seen in thier lifetimes. That moment to this day is seared into my conciousness……..the best 90 minutes of live music I ever saw.

    So what you prefer Citgo gasoline? To me, listening to music is about getting away from the madness Bill and I think we can all agree on that no matter what our political persuassions…….and I know I speak for the whole family of apes on that.

    Sorry Bill………..but you’re never getting rid of us!!!! In fact Bill, I look forward to coming up to Boston in the near future to catch a game at Fenway AND have a beer with you before the game. The assholes are tearing down my stadium in about 3 months and I dont want life to pass without me going to see that Green Wall in person..

  6. I have read it twice with a gap of about 9 months. It still hit me hard with MCarthy’s usual direct violent style. However this is an easy read in a syntax sense and a theme sense compared to Blood Meridian which is based on factual events. The Road has hope for a humanity that survives amongst the violence and beastliness of a will to live and love.
    Blood Meridian has little of these redeeming features for the protagonists apart from the kid.

    I strongly recommend it as the most powerful and disturbing piece of serious American literature ever written.
    The late great David Foster Wallace thought so as well. And Infinite Jest comes next.

  7. FWIW, I had a similar experience reading that book about a year ago. Was a lapsed fan of McCarthy, but picked up the book because of the level of attention it had been receiving. Ended up reading it cover to cover one night, out of some odd sense that the characters needed my company. It was, as you put it, a much more physical or visceral reading experience than any I can remember. I don’t know if it is quite so emotionally imposing for those who don’t have small kids — although this is true of my sample group, which reported varying degrees of the same experience. A book that helped me shake off or modulate the aftermath of the road was Jonathan Lear’s an Ethics of Hope. Another thing in the same vein was the film : The Time of the Wolves by Haneke. Anyway, I enjoyed the post and I appreciate your blogging efforts…

  8. Bill, read it just last week. Devastating. The last conversation between the Man and The Boy sent me over the edge. I’ve heard some people say this is an “environmental” book and a cautionary tale. I completely disagree. To me it’s about the hope of humanity in the bleakest of times and that we don’t know our progeny as well as we pretend to, but there is an unexplainable bond that forever survives because there is no other choice.

    Simply put: as a parent I found this book absolutely devastating emotionally.

  9. I agree, lovetractor. I was discussing it with a friend today. The setting is the setting and is absolutely bleak. But it is a stark Beckett-like tableau for the drama that is at the heart of it, the relationship between two people who are all the other has “each the other’s world entire.” Clearly a book from a guy struggling with becoming a father in his 70s. I mean, parents in their 30s and 40s have these existential dilemmas about leaving their kids and in what sort of world. Well, the prospect doesn’t get much darker than this and yet there is some sort of uplift here.

  10. I guess it does have some “uplift”, though the appearance of the guy in the parka at the end is a little bit in the vein of “deus ex machina”. Sort of a humanitarian gesture to prevent the total emotional collapse of the reader. I appreciated that McCarthy provided it, but the prospect of abandonment seemed more convincing than that deliverance, given the book as a whole…

  11. I have seen references to the “deus ex machina” idea in other discussions/essays on the book and while I agree he does seem to come out of nowhere, I do not see him as merely a device thrown in to offset the emotional bleakness of the novel up to that point. In fact, there are hints all along (father suspects for a long time they are being watched, followed, etc. guy with bow and arrow, e.g.) I believe this is the (or at least “a”) logical end point, which is actually contrary to your impression that abandonment was the more sensible outcome. I feel the man has been leading them toward this or a similar goal, or at least hoping to deliver his son to such a stage, even if unable to fully convince himself that all is not lost. He is sort of operating on hope and faith that there are other “good guys.” I think he realizes by the end that the boy can not be delivered to this next step with him, the man, present; he represents too much of a possible threat to others. I’m not saying the father dies purposefully, but he clearly lets go with this hope still alive. And there are a few clues along the way that buttresses his hope that his son will be able to find the good guys and will live on and perhaps will even thrive better with the man gone. Old world vs. new, big juicy father/son/God/savior/evolution (parent bringing forth child to next stage) allegories are all flying around there.

  12. Well, I agree that abandonment and deliverance are both sensible outcomes. There are the other hints, as you mention, and, after all, the fact that they are moving down the road at all is sort of a degree zero of hope. I just meant that the accumulated balefulness of the narrative to that point made the arrival of the man in the parka extremely welcome, but somewhat unearned. There are certainly a number of allegorical possibilities at play, as there are in his other work. In the Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, I never ended up rereading them and trying to sort them out. I might try, for The Road, but I’m not sure I have time right now to get in the same mood it put me in before…

  13. Once we were told the man was coughing blood it was only a matter of time and he of course knew it. The real climax to the story was when he fired the flare gun. Other than some stops to gain some strength and to actually enjoy some food, his every move was of forward calculation. The use of the flare for merriment was a such a massive departure.

  14. I had trouble posting so I thought if I copied and pasted it in to a new window it would post…. well not all of it did. Damn it.

    Anyway, the appearnce of the man in the parker was a major event in a broader story. However in the real story between the father and son up until he fired the flare every move was one of forward calculation and risk/reward. Other than heading easterly to the ocean when we were told clearly the goal was to head south. He chose not to head due east but he didn’t head due south either. He had other goals.

    The man was fighting for survival for his son but he also underneath it all was determined to give his son some memories of color. The ocean logically held that potential. McCarthy up until that point had taken great pains to let us know the new world muted any chance at such moments between a father and a son and to provide the boy some visions of his own. Recolections that weren’t simply stories from the father.

    When the ocean wasn’t free of the blight the father even apologized. The flare’s purpose is to signal location for rescue but by breaking from his metronome routine of purpose the father finally was able to have one of those moments with his child that the new world made pretty much impossible. He did it inspite of the potential to bring bad people. {Or perhaps he was hoping for some good knowing his time was drawing near and once again he rolled the dice.) No man would want his grand colorful moment with his child to be a pack of cool aid or a can of coke. All along the man was almost obsessed with keeping his boy from seeing certain things but more importantly what the boy had actually seen on his own not things that were just described to him.

    Around this time McCarthy also made it clear that normally a child would begin to push away from his father. The conditions made the child’s attachment unconditional. It was purposeful for survival but the man still had desires to see his boy independent for reasons beyond simple survival. He thankfully was able to see that before he passed.

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