Friday, December 26, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I watched No Country for Old Men. Then I read the book No Country for Old Men. I found out about his other books including The Road. In my researching about The Road, I found that Oprah had this book on her book list. Naturally my first reaction was, "great, this is some chick book." But knowing the premise of the book, I was a little confused as to how this could be a chick book.

Finally the day came when my copy came in the mail ... an eBay purchase while wondering what I was going to do for a good read over the holidays. I dipped in it the first couple of nights getting to page 50. It was as morbid as it had sounded. Depressing, dreary and hopeless. How could I read such a book around Christmas time?

Last night, after taking a late-afternoon nap, I knew I would be up awhile. I continued from page 50. I told myself I would stop on page 187 ... one hundred pages before the end. It was getting late and Jill had already fallen asleep. I kept reading. Page 200. I'll stop at 220. Page 234. I'll stop at page 250. Page 261 ... OK I'll finish it. I closed the book and couldn't fall asleep. I was too horrified of our own world's future and what I would do with my wife and four kids. I didn't fall asleep quickly.

The Summary

Spoiler Alert ... if you want to read the book and don't want to know what happens, skip this section.

The story is about a man and his son who are trying to survive in a bleak and barren landscape in some unknown post-apocalyptic time. They are in the southwest of the United States and are trying to get to the Pacific Coast. They travel through mountains, abandoned towns, ranches and roads. They push a shopping cart that has all their possessions. They stop at stores, homes and anyplace that might have food and scavenge as best as they can. They are always fighting starvation.

Where is the mother? She killed herself. Shortly after the destruction of the world, she gave birth to their son. The father and mother argued for weeks about suicide. She reasoned that if they got caught, they would rape them all, kill them and eat them. The father wants to go on, but the mother opts out.

The father tries as best as he can to keep hope alive in his son. He tries to protect his youthful eyes from the atrocities of their world, but he doesn't fully succeed. The father tells the boy to kill himself with the gun they have, if he is ever caught by the cannibals. At one point, the boy is caught, but the father manages to fire off one of his two remaining bullets and kills the intruder. At another point in their journey, they come across a ranch. They find it is being lived in. They find a locked door. They haven't eaten in days. The father breaks open the door, holds the light up. To their horror they find naked people crying "help us." One person is laying down ... his leg missing.

Thankfully, the two escape from that nightmare and find celestial bliss. The father finds a sealed bomb shelter stocked full of canned foods and meat and water. It is Christmas for them. They eat well, sleep in peace and bathe with hot water. They find new clothes and are able to restock their shopping cart.

Shortly after, they find an old man on the road. The boy begs the father to help him. They give him food and let the old man dine with them that night. It is a wonder this old relic is alive. He says he's 90, but know one knows, including the old man. This brings up another, key aspect of the book. The boy is always wanting to help anyone they find. He is shocked beyond belief when he finds out there are people who would want to eat him or anyone else. The father tries to reason with the boy by telling him they cannot help other people or they will die. It is a struggle to keep alive, but at the same time, it is a struggle to keep human.

They finally make it to the ocean. It is not blue and this disheartens the boy. They find a boat and are able to restock again. The boy gets sick, but gets better. They find a seaport. Someone tries to kill them with a bow and arrow. But they are manned with a flare gun from the boat.

Later the father becomes deathly ill and dies. But he tells his son that they can always talk. The boy just has to talk to him in his head and the father will respond. Another man, fully armed, takes the boy in. The man has a wife and two kids.

I could hardly get through those last pages of the book. It took all I had to hold back the tears as they both knew the father was going to die. That feeling of being abandoned in such a dark world would be permanent after the father died. It was something the boy faced the entire book. Often the father would go out to scavenge while the boy slept. This was the most stressing part for me. I couldn't help but put myself in the dad's shoes and think of one of my kids in the boy's shoes. It really tugged at my heart.


The book was indeed great. I am amazed at how McCarthy can paint such a vivid story with his style of writing. As I said, once I got into it, I could not put it down. Today on our walk, my wife and I were talking about this book and 2012. Many think the world will end in 2012. Thus the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies and books will be abundant these next four years. This book kept me awake long after I had finished it. It still haunts me. If you are LDS, you will feel this strong urgency to get your food storage ready after you read this book. I swear that family with the stocked bomb shelter must have been LDS ... well, on second thought maybe not ... it had lots of coffee!

Like I was telling Jill, the book isn't about the end of the world. It is about a father and son and keeping hope and the fire alive within yourself and your posterity. As depressing as the book was, the message was as hopeful as you can get. In the face of all despair, this little boy proved to be a brilliant light in utter darkness.

This book will also be made into a movie. Viggo Mortenson will play the father. It comes out sometime in 2009.

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