On The Road

I’m reading The Road by C. McCarthy. Finally. It was an Oprah pick, I think, a few years ago. Many acquaintances and coworkers I know have read it—casual readers by all accounts. My wife has read it. Discussion has surrounded me, and I’ve meant to check it out for some time. Finally am. Pretty captivating, and certainly unique. Grim. But a bit silly at times. Rather like a horror film when they went down in that basement.

As for the apocalypse that has transpired, the lack of evidence for it is convenient but effective: the unimaginable is more mysterious and horrible than the particular and factual, which is bound to contain some element of the mundane. The way the author has handled it, there’s no chronology or logic of catastrophe to be invented. There’s no science to verify. No political realities to account for. Just some type of obliteration, evidenced by heaps of ash, still falling after years.  Was it a volcano? Copious nuclear detonation? Yet there’s no discussion of radiation or its after effects. Maybe I’m revealing my ignorance here. Maybe all the other readers of this book know what happened, pieced it together by deduction. Why has it eroded the good will of all humanity? Best left to the imagination.

The part that doesn’t add up to me is why they would leave the underground bunker they found with the stores of food, water, dry clothes, beds, shelter. They may be found there and be killed, but they can more easily be found on the road, in the open, and killed as well. So assuming those risks are equal, I cannot imagine how the draw of those basic human needs for warmth, peace, and shelter, are forsaken, rejected. Especially since no concrete reason is given for why the man and his son need to reach the ocean. Or why they need to get south for that matter. What’s in the south? Warmth? I guess. Where they are now it continues to snow on them. But they’ve been in this post-apocalyptic environment for several years, at least, according to the narrative evidence. So other winters were survived. What has changed? Why not survive another winter? Conveniently unexplained. I’m not saying the premise is unsupportable—no, as a reader, I suspend my disbeliefs and doubts. But these cracks release some pressure from the plot. And ultimately, I think, the ocean is not so much a practical goal as a symbolic and narrative destination—that thing to be hoped for. That hope for salvation. That appeals to us all, no matter the circumstance.