This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a decidedly sombre piece of art. If one was prone to depression in the winter months, it might not be the best book to read. But there is little question it is a masterwork.
The book features an unending vista of grey skies, grey seas, grey lands and a long grey tunnel, slowly squeezing.
Stark and inhospitable, the remnants of civilization are dead and buried beneath a shroud of lifeless ash. No rain falls, unless it is of ash, or is laced with ash. There are few decent human beings left. The bulk of the population has fallen back on savagery as its only recourse. Humanity has suffered a profound devolution and is now a cannibalistic caricature of its former self.
This is the dark vision provided by the powerfully emotive author Cormac McCarthy. The author’s impact on recent American literature cannot be overstated, but other books of his are notably more florid. This post-apocalyptic landscape is rendered even more appalling through the author’s use of sparse prose and matter-of-fact description.
Yet even amidst this dystopian diaspora, the dramatic decline into depravity is forestalled by hope.
A loving father refuses to sacrifice his humanity on the altar of expediency. Despite the seemingly absolute nature of the fight or flight ethos that is prevalent in the land, he holds to his hope. It is this man’s faith in human potential — as represented by the pure and inherently good character of his son — that drives him forward against the odds.
Only this allows him to survive the hardscrabble existence of their daily lives without lowering himself to the bestial tendencies of their fellow travellers on The Road.
Powerful and painful, frightening and provocative, this book is a ringing condemnation of the mantra of selfishness our society sometimes celebrates.
The ending is deliberately ambiguous and open to different interpretations.
This reviewer chooses to believe that it is ultimately redemptive. Whatever other readers choose to endorse is up to them, of course, but it seems unlikely they could forget their reading of this masterpiece. Once you have read it, it tends to stick with you.
Jason Wiggins is owner of The Book Place at 248 Third Ave. downtown.