Friday, September 5, 2008

The Road

This morning on the way to work I finished "reading" The Road by Cormac McCarthy. (If you haven't read it yourself, don't read the plot summary on the Wikipedia page.) I listened to it as an audio recording: 6 hours 40 minutes unabridged. I agree with Leo Laporte--listening to an audiobook feels like reading.

This is the darkest novel I can remember reading. I was wondering as I approached the end if McCarthy would be able to give it a positive ending. I want to avoid any spoilers, but I will say I found the ending satisfying, and I could imagine much darker conclusions to the story.

I found the novel especially moving because I am a father, and I can identify with the theme of trying to guide your children towards becoming a self-respecting, respectable adults, while keeping them safe and trying to gain every advantage possible for them, within sometimes fuzzy moral limits. I'm glad I'm not raising my kids in a world as dark as that in the novel. But I admired "the man's" very human heroism--his struggles to keep his son safe but also continue to "carry the fire" of "the good guys".

Another theme that resonated for me is how to live life after confronting the existential crisis. How do you live your life in a world with no ultimate purpose or external meaning? I spend quite a bit of time thinking about this. I keep coming back to the answer that one must find one's own meaning for life. Mine is rather selfish. I want to make the most of the great luck I've had in this particular combination of genes being born at all. "Making the most" is a constant struggle and balancing act between doing what provides me satisfaction over the short term and what will provide me satisfaction over the long term. That sounds selfish, but many of the things that provide me both short-term and long-term satisfaction are related to sharing with and caring for my family (as well as myself). I guess this should be the subject of a longer essay, that may take me a lifetime to write.

I may come back to this novel occasionally, for it has given me a renewed appreciation for nature and our environment. McCarthy paints the picture of a world with absolutely no life at all so vividly that like being separated from a loved one for too long, I want to give it a big hug now that we're back together. (Others have had the same reaction: see the last paragraph under "Awards and nominations" on the Wikipedia page. Again, skip the plot summary.)

I see that a film adaptation will be released soon. It may be a good movie, and I'll certainly seek it out. But I recommend you read (or listen to) the novel first. If you see the movie first you may forever lose the opportunity to experience this story in all its power.

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