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Diminution
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March 2011
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Book Review - The Road - Cormac McCarthy

I just finished The Road this evening.  It is one of the most beautifully written books I have read.  The words he uses are apt and poetic. 

The story is one of the end of the world.  There has been some sort of a natural disaster that has left the world in a cloud of ash.  It could have been an asteroid or many volcanoes though it is not clear at all in the book.  The sun has been blotted out.  The food chain has been interrupted as there is no light available for plants.  The story takes place about 7 years after the event. 

It is the story of a father and son who walk, searching for food and hope.  Their relationship is touching.  They are everything to one another.

The descriptions are engrossing.  You can feel how the protagonists feel throughout.  There are many scenes that stayed with me hours after I put the book down for the night. 

I will not write anything about the ending unless someone else has read it and wants to discuss it. 

It is beautiful, somber, depressing, and it can envelop you if you read it without distraction.  I will read it again and I will probably enjoy it even more because I know what is coming next and can just immerse myself in the writing. 

I kept an active list of words to look up written on my bookmark. 

Comments

This book made me cry so hard that I almost threw up. I was exhausted but I had to read it all in one sitting.

Afterward I discussed it with a friend of mine and was surprised at how radically different the interpretations were. He saw it as a book about the ultimate moral dilemma-- in a world so broken and hopeless, is the man selfish for refusing to kill his son?

What I took away from it was a chilling glimpse into my own soul. It made me confront the darkness inside of myself-- in those circumstances, what kind of person would I be? Would I be one of the house people with a basement full of humans to eat? Would I roast a baby on a spit? Would I be part of the war-tribe with bones and spears and enslaved women? Or would I be a desperate dying man, with a gun and a son, trying in vain to reach some kind of safety or freedom? It's hard to tell.

It compelled me to read it in once sitting as well but I fought the urge because I wanted to savor it.

The underlying and sad truth that I came to less than halfway through is that the amount of food was finite. The world was, in fact, ending. The last stragglers will use up the last available nutrients as no new nutrients are being made. The food change is broken at the very beginning, there is no light for plants to use. I suppose there is still life at the bottom of the sea but certainly not on land or in fresh water.

It is only a matter of time before the last mammals (resourceful humans) die.

About half way through I was so in love with the characters that I began to dread reading it. I knew the best thing for them was to die. Then I read a quote on the front cover about compassion and the good side of human nature so I read on, expecting it to end differently.

So, do you think there will be a sequel? It is not over. The man just died. Also, McCormac has published six books, thee of those were a trilogy.

The food supply may be finite, but I don't believe that a world can just die. In millions of years, it could have life again. And anyways, it might be possible to launch a spaceship, and there might be people up in the space stations and the weather stations of the south pole, eating hydroponic veggies and searching out new possibilities. It's a matter of surviving the longest until you find these options and never giving up hope. It never occurred to me that the best thing would be to die.

And I'm not sure about a sequel. I guess that depends on how McCarthy interpreted human nature. The ending was somewhat open-ended, you know. I just kind of assumed that the "kind" man who found the boy was going to do what the father couldn't and kill him, or eat him. We have no reason to believe that he was kind and wanted to take him in-- no one else in that world was kind, and it would take the biggest most non-selfish or the most foolish heart to take in another mouth to feed under those circumstances.

I love end-of-the-world lit and well-constructed speculative fiction. I have never read anything as bleak as this. Everything else is a story of man's triumph over unrealistic odds. This one was unrealistic odds triumphing over man.

I think this was really good for me to read. A friend actually made me read it because I have an apocalypse fetish. This set me straight.

I didn't know about your apocalypse thing. In this case, you must, must, read Oryx & Crake. If you have a commute, listen to the audio book read by Campbell Scott, it is amazing. I have listened to it four times and read it twice. It is my favorite book and has been for three or four years.

She borrows vocabulary from Virginia Woolf and that keeps it fun, too. She uses words like diaphanous and ersatz. I have recommended this book to no less than four people and each has thanked me.

Also, here were my first impressions of it-- when I first read it, I had to make a blog entry about it, too. http://artofange.livejournal.com/34492.html