Monday, March 12, 2007

late night reading

I was up until three o'clock in the morning Saturday night, which is very unusual. I'm an early-to-bed and an early-to-rise sort of person, generally, but was in the grip of a book in a way I haven't felt in a long time. After losing The Last Town on Earth at Barnes & Noble Friday night, and needing something to bring on the subway with me, I grabbed another Christmas book from the shelf: Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Finished it around midnight last night. I'm not sure I'd exactly recommend this book, though I found it completely compelling. When I was a kid I read lots of books about the end of the world as we know it, adult & young adult, disease, nuclear holocaust, the rapture. I kind of grew out of this genre eventually, until I stumbled across Alas, Babylon, written in the 1950s but published again recently, last Christmas out in Anacortes. It's a pretty good book, full of hope in the end, communities coming together to learn how to feed themselves, a nation rising from the ashes of its own destruction, that kind of thing. But The Road is made of much darker stuff. This story of a man, unnamed, and his son, also unnamed, desperately trying to survive in a world disappeared in the aftermath of war, is gutwrenching. Ash covers everything. It is very cold, and it snows a lot, and the snow is gray. There are few people and even fewer animals populating this desolation. The man and his boy push a grocery cart, one wheel coming lose, down this road. They cough a lot. Remember, there is ash everywhere, and the masks fashioned out of bedsheets don't seem to help much. The ocean smells slightly of iodine. The books I read as a child and the fantasies I had about them, though scary to me, were ultimately about the ways in which people survive. I would imagine planting more apple trees in our yard. I would think about the chickens they kept at the plant nursery not far from our house, and would think about how to get them, and raise them. I would imagine a fishery down at the lake at the end of our block. McCarthy takes my childhood imaginings to an entirely new level of detail and horror. This is a book about the way a people, an entire world, destroys itself, eats itself alive.

1 comment:

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