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Country: Europe, GB, United Kingdom
Art is different from entertainment because art changes you, and this book affected me more deeply than any piece of art I've ever encountered. Not that I think it's perfect -- I see many flaws. But they don't matter. It accomplished its mission.
Cormac McCarthy has written the definitive literary depiction of the power of love. Although they were cold, dirty, starving, frightened, I was surprised to find myself at one point envying them, for they were nurtured from within by the power of love. Especially the father, as it's the nature of the parent-child relationship that the parent gives and the child receives. CM is saying, that when all hope is gone, love remains.
And he's done it so convincingly that during the days I was reading this book, when I had occasion to throw away some food, I found myself thinking "I wish I could give it to them." In some part of my mind, I felt convinced that these people really existed. That was how completely I entered into their world.
Caution: spoilers ahead!!
I have never cried so hard at any death in a movie or book. It started with the line: "when he lay down he knew that he could go no further and that this was the place where he would die. The boy sat watching him, his eyes welling. Oh Papa, he said."
I'm crying for the loss to the man, who showed so much courage, self-denial, sheer grit, and boundless love. We want to see that kind of all-out effort succeed and be rewarded, but life isn't like that. We know the horror the man must feel in leaving his son alone in that world, with nothing but a half a tin of peaches to sustain him. In his final gesture of love, the man declines the peaches and tells his son to save them for him -- for tomorrow, when he knows he'll be gone.
I'm crying for the loss to the skinny, starving boy, who has lost his smart, determined, vigilant and tender father -- the only thing standing between him and a horrific future as a catamite or cannibal's dinner.
And I'm crying for the loss to myself of the most inspiring character in the fiction world: a man with the strength to keep going, keep walking, keep searching, when almost all others have given up (like his wife) or given in to their basest instincts (the roadagents).
"The Road" left me knowing that love is all that matters, and determined to live my life out of that knowledge. I want to give up living from my mind and start living from my heart. Perhaps I will adopt a child. The story is more powerful than a thousand sermons.
Cormac McCarthy strips away all the superfluous stuff that has nothing to do with love. We don't know whether the man preferred to go out for sushi or steak, jazz music or country. Was he a lawyer, salesman or mechanic? None of that is essential to who he is. We don't need him to crack jokes or say profound things. All we know of him is what he does, and that's plenty. We see him putting his son's welfare first, over and over again. When they are hiding from the cannibals, he considers running to draw them away from the boy. That he himself will end up in that basement doesn't even figure in his decision not to do it -- only that he doesn't think it will work. His own pain weighs nothing when compared to his motivation to save the boy.
As for those who fault the man for not helping strangers -- I don't agree. Any morsel of food given to strangers is taken from the mouth of his son, or lessens his own chance to stay alive long enough to get his son south. He had to choose and he chose his son.
So the story had a deep emotional impact on me. But in addition, it is a story of ideas. How low can man go? What darkness beats in the heart of men, only thinly veiled by our (currently) abundant society? At what point is life no longer worth living? At what point should the strong drive for self-preservation be ignored, if it means committing atrocities on others? And lastly, to what extent am I taking life's current luxuries and comforts for granted?
I'm sure many a reader of "The Road" has collapsed into bed after a night of reading and felt immense gratitude for their cozy bedroom, their clean sheets, their fridge and a tasty midnight snack.
Things that troubled me about the story: I wanted them to stay longer at the bunker. At least to make full use of those provisions and take the time to fatten up and rest before heading on. They could've hauled a load of groceries off a mile or two and pigged out for a few weeks before coming back for more. The more weight they put on, the less crucial it would be to find fresh provisions when they finally did leave.
I wanted to see him make a major effort to find a way to disguise the trap-door to the bunker. It had gone undiscovered for almost ten years, if it was well hidden perhaps it could go undiscovered for at least a few more months.
Setting off the flare gun was irresponsible. They wasted a flare and announced their position, perhaps drawing the thief.
But those are minor quibbles. After finishing "The Road," I felt profoundly blessed, and cleansed from within from the tears shed. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Cormac McCarthy has given mankind an immense gift, for which I paid only $7.99. Thank for Cormac McCarthy.
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