Some time back I fell prey to an episode of Oprah that had an interview with Cormick McCarthy, who is the author of several books, most recently the novel The Road. In the interview, the awkwardness between them was pronounced, but informative, especially as the guest talked about his new book and some of its over arching themes. At the time, I made a mental note to read it and filed it away in my head. Some months later, I ran across it in a bookstore and it ended up on my Christmas list. Now, having just finished reading it, I’m glad I did and thought that it would make for an interesting “off-topic” review, but soon realized that it was very much on subject to post here.
The story in the book (and soon to be released movie) is about the existential survival of a father and son in a post apoplectic world where daily subsistence consists of finding safe tins of food to eat in the ash and wastes, all the while dodging and fighting off cannibals, The Road agents, and starvation. But that is the overt story. Beneath the long passages of subsistence living is the message that the father constantly works to instill to his son, that they ware the “good guys” and that the reason for their going on was to continue carrying the fire (light) of humanity.
Now this sounds like a lofty exclamation of the lone ranger against the heathens of the wasteland and in some instances that seems to spill into the fore, but the real message comes as a gradual realization that the only thing they can do is continue on, to strive day after day to do right rather than succumb to the evil and terror or simply commit suicide from the futility of the future.
A pivotal point comes late in the text when the father and son, despite their own misgivings, give the act of charity to a lone traveler on The Road. The interaction could just as easily be a decoy for some malfeasance or another plot to take their meager rations and end their existence. During the exchange a dialog takes place over the existence of God, doing the right thing despite god’s existence (or not) and the very act of charity being their reason enough for existence. Ultimately, it is not a preachy message of “we do it because god said to”, but rather a “we did it because we did”. It was the act of being good versus the reason to be.
At its close the story has a Hemingway-esque ending like For Whom the Bell Tolls but in this instance, it was less the introspective why and more the “now I understand” discovery. As a Freemason, it resonated with my sympathies of why we do what we do and why those things are important more specifically. That we carry the fire, each one of us, and its in that light that we do good. And that in that charity we are at some level showing our love.
I highly recommend The Road, and even in its fictional nature, it paints a modern parable for our existence in a pre-apocalyptic world.