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The Road    by Cormac McCarthy order for
by Cormac McCarthy
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

First, before I talk specifically about Cormac McCarthy's powerful new novel, The Road, let me offer some background comments.

In contemporary American literature, McCarthy stands out as perhaps the most important writer currently working. Underscoring that opinion, the perceptive and prolific literary critic Harold Bloom says in How to Read and Why that McCarthy is literature's 'worthy disciple of both Melville and Faulkner.' Moreover, says Bloom, the 'relevance of Cormac McCarthy is absolute; he is the Homer' of our post-modern world.

I would note at this point that Bloom's comments were made when he was talking about McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the novel that Bloom praised as the unsurpassed 'authentic American apocalyptic novel.'

I must, however, at this point be bold enough to amend and correct Bloom's observations by arguing that McCarthy's newest novel, The Road, goes beyond Blood Meridian, the one book - up until now - that I would have argued should be required reading for everyone. Now I would argue that The Road surpasses all its antecedents and becomes American literature's singular and, for the foreseeable future, unsurpassable apocalyptic novel.

Epic in its scope, The Road begins with a father and son, 'each the other's world entire.' With their possessions poured into knapsacks and a grocery cart, these two wanderers shuffle through the inescapable ash and dust that covers the highways and cities of a devastated America. Heading southward to the elder's childhood home, hoping to get away from the gray desolation and the harshness of an oncoming winter's cold, the unnamed pair - somewhat like the mythic Daedalus and Icarus - are trying to escape something dangerous and oppressive. Yet everywhere they go, this protective father and his worshipful son travel through what appears only as the godless ruins of an empty, cauterized world.

These travelers, facing an unimaginable scarcity of food as well as an increasingly merciless environment, seem at first to be quite alone in their strangely purposeful odyssey. However, beyond the mummified dead bodies which seem to be everywhere, other travelers do exist: Isolated small groups of others - some pathetically harmless and some unspeakably dangerous - still survive in the universally hostile environment. But throughout the pair's ordeals, this remarkable father and son are able to do the bravest thing they have ever done: They courageously get up every morning and find a purpose for moving forward in their journey through life.

The Road, startling and disturbing, may be the most important book written in the last half century. Paradoxically grotesque and lyrically beautiful, and enriched by elegantly simple prose that is poetic in its intensity, The Road may be - at the same time - one of the most frightening and reassuring novels ever written. Its themes are many. And those themes are profound.

In reading about ourselves in The Road - by means of reading about the father and son in McCarthy's vision of the world - we as readers are forced to confront the frequently blurred, artificial lines between the world that we blithely call real life and the world (and the possibilities for the world) that we would prefer to believe exists only in nightmares.

With every sentence of every page, McCarthy challenges and confronts readers with a provocative parable that is inhabited by civilized, conscious human beings - like us - who have been inexplicably cast adrift into the unforgiving absurdity of a post-modern landscape. McCarthy's characters in The Road remain indefatigable in their need to support each other and to make sense out of an ineffable existence.

And McCarthy challenges us to do the same.

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