A second round of “The Road”

I simply have to come back to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I read the book over Christmas and talked about it in an earlier post and now I’m re-reading it (which is unusual for me, since I like to move immediately from the Read to the Unread). On this second round, I already know the story — a man and a boy trying to survive in a bleak and ruined landscape — and I know the turns and twists of plot (such as it is) and I know the ending. With those matters in my mind, I can sink into the language. I see nuances I’d missed.

I don’t know how McCarthy does it. Here’s the same ashen world described over and over but you never feel he’s repeating himself. Even the ubiquitous color “gray” seems newly revealed in its grayness at every turn, and I realize what’s happening is “the triumph of language over nothingness,” as the Chicago Tribune’s review put it. Or maybe it’s even better put by an experience of the man in the book:

There were times when he sat watching the boy sleep that he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it wasnt about death. He wasnt sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness.

I’m not sobbing as I read, but the ache in me is the same, and I’m not sure what it’s about either, but I think it has to be this beauty of words, this resilient and scavenged goodness of story.

Cormac McCarthy


There’s a biblical sensibility here as well, due perhaps to the author’s Catholic childhood and education, and though McCarthy said, in an interview he gave Oprah, that the novel is just about that man and that boy on the road, but people draw all kinds of conclusions from reading. Yes, and it’s okay that we do. I hear a riff on Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and  discover a catalogue of rituals that sustain the soul: eating together, the man tousling the boy’s hair “like some ancient anointing,”and telling “old stories of courage and justice as he remembered them.”

As you can tell, I like this book a lot. I know I’ve come to it later than many folks, but if you haven’t read it yet either, I’d certainly recommend that you do.