All Roads Lead to Her

One of my failed blogging intentions was to do a review of Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, The Road. (A while back I did do a review of his previous novel, No Country For Old Men, as well as a short McCarthy primer.) But lately it’s been on my mind again, for bizarro reasons that I’ll get to in a second.

The Road is a great book. Father and son wander a postapocalyptic wasteland, the geography of which is the same as McCarthy’s earliest novels, at least on a map. The funny thing is that they’re kind of recognizable, even though everything now is covered in a layer of dust and almost nothing is left. The sere prose that describes the scenes is the connective tissue that links them. This wandering pair are two rare souls that have managed to hold onto their humanity; most of the people they run into have become, to some extent, monsters. McCarthy traced one man’s journey from man to monster in macabre detail in Child of God . . . kind of neat to see him coming back to this theme so very many years later. But for all the connectedness to his earlier works, the bulk of The Road‘s actual text reads like some sort of survivalist primer. Just as NCfOM was taken up with the nitty-gritty of one man’s attempts to stay a step ahead of the law and the bounty hunter, this one makes you feel every pang of hunger as the protagonists try to scrounge for food for just one more day.

Anyhow, there’s plenty more to be said that will take a second reading to properly bring into focus in my mind. I’m not surprised that The Road has achieved quite a measure of popular success. “The apocalypse happened, and a father and son are trying to survive afterward” is, after all, quite a hook. Good Pulitzer prize material (which it won). But I was surprised to walk into the bookstore a few weeks ago and see copies of the book on the counter with big Oprah Book Club stickers on them. Surprised but not flabbergasted. It had already been Pulitzered, after all.

Then yesterday, my head exploded, when I learned (from loyal reader and friend Adam) that . . . but let me back up. Cormac McCarthy, while not a recluse of Pynchonesque proportions, is not a public writer. He steers clear of discussions of his work. His last interview regarding his fiction, to my knowledge, was the one for the New York Times Book Review in 1992 or 3 — and that was given in a car on the way to or from some airport. He’s the kind of guy that’s probably a familiar face at his local bookstore, and shows up for the neighborhood barbeque cheerfully, but just doesn’t go in for the whole national-exposure thing.

Except that on Tuesday, Book Club day, he’s going to be appearing on Oprah.

Cormac. McCarthy. On. Oprah. Oh what a strange, strange world we live in.

Needless to say, this I gotta see. Anyone know when Oprah is on?

(As a footnote, No Country for Old Men was made into a movie — no surprise there — by the Coen brothers — pleasant surprise there — and it was well-received at Cannes. I’m betting that even the quirky Coens gave the thing the filmic ending that the novel carefully skirts, and if so it should make a fine movie. Looking forward to seeing it.)