Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" - In Which a Hardcore Fan of Dark Fiction Becomes a Potential Member of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club
It was right there, in the description of the item in my Amazon cart; it was in parenthesis: (The Oprah Winfrey Book Club)--and, after a few clicks and an innocuous transfer of some money-numbers on a computer screen, the book was mine and it was on its way. Over the next couple of days, as I awaited the book's arrival, I had to wonder what I'd done. Was I actually going to like this book or was I going soft, like a piece of fruit being tossed (and dropped a few times) around the library by a couple of bored high-school kids that don't understand why anyone would read the book when you can just watch the movie? I'd been told to check out Cormac McCarthy several times over the past few years and I'd been putting it off. I like stories of the macabre, I told myself. I'm not mainstream. I don't like the sort of books that populate the shelves of Barnes and Noble. (Although I couldn't quite stifle that voice in the back of my head that kept whispering: What about King, you idiot. How much more mainstream can you get, you hypocritical bastard.) I thought that if Oprah liked it, the woman adored by so many middle-aged woman across America, it probably wasn't for me.
When the book arrived, sure enough, there it was: that great big gleaming O sticker, stuck to the front of my new book like a tumor, a mark that, to me, was as glaring and hideous as a scarlet A. I took the book to work with me, shamefully hiding the Oprah Book Club sticker with my fingers, and I read the first 50 pages or so. I read some more at lunch. I was intrigued; I was curious; I was drawn into the world of the book. I hadn't imagined a place so perversely dark and hopeless, so vague and yet so very real--so very human. I forgot about that little sticker on the front cover and I finished the book in a day and I immediately looked up Oprah's Book Club--what other kinds of things were on that list? What was I missing?
"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy is a very good book. Its subject matter is most decidedly horror, but its style and restraint are the qualities of good literature. It chronicles the journey of a man (never named) and his young son as they travel through a world after some sort of apocalyptic disaster (never explained). All we know is that it's cold, food is extremely scarce, and everything is in ruins, covered in ash and falling to pieces. McCarthy's sparse writing style works perfectly to convey the desperate numbness of humanity reduced to a state of aimless survivalist. People are kept locked in basements like cattle to be eaten by other people; a woman gives birth to a baby and roasts it on a spit for dinner with her male companions; all the plants and birds and everything is dead. It is a bleak world and a bleak story, but with a lot of heart and much to say about the nature of altruism and the human spirit.
Now, I've looked through Oprah's list of books from the past few years and most of what's listed there are not of much interest to someone like me who loves the horror genre and loves subversive fiction (besides a few works of Faulkner), but I have to say it is a solid list of 'literary' pieces of writing that I'm sure are important and powerful in the canon. I must say, my respect for Oprah has jumped considerably after looking over her list of books and knowing that she actually reads and encourages others to read--in a society that is becoming more and more illiterate and loosing its historical memory, anyone totting the value of the written word is a commendable and upstanding member of the human race in my eyes.
Read "The Road." It is a wonderful piece of literary horror fiction.