For the most part, I just read books. In the last two days, I devoured one. Its not too much of a book. Were it not for the interruptions for real lif...moreFor the most part, I just read books. In the last two days, I devoured one. Its not too much of a book. Were it not for the interruptions for real life, I would have finished it in a sitting. But given the topic of the book, it was impossible to ignore my children (to say nothing of desirable).
I had two books I wanted to read sitting in the pile. One is the classic "Emminent Victorians" by Lytton Strachey. Its a book I have always meant to read, but have never gotten around to. On the other hand, there was the "Oprah Book Club" selection The Road. Needless to say, I don't have many Oprah picks on my reading pile. Anyway, I had just read a bit of apocalyptic fiction, why travel down the beaten path so soon? Well, I looked at both and decided, ah if I don't read The Road now, it might stay on the pile for a long time. So, I forewent an acknowledged classic and picked up a modern one.
Cormac McCarthy has already won the Pulitzer Prize for the Road, so I am not exactly uncovering a gem in the rough. He is perhaps the most respected modern American novelist with Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses already behind him. But his other works are very grounded in a particular place and a particular time. The Road is something else altogether. Time and place have lost all meaning.
We encounter a boy and his father. We never know their names. We don't know where they are, where they came from or where they are going (other than south, towards the ocean). What carries this narrative is the bond between a father and son. The love between these two beings is the metaphor for all the good that remains in a humanity that has plunged into darkness.
This is not a traditional story of apocalypse -- there is no real warning to humanity in The Road. When we join the father and son, the apocalypse is sort of old news. In fact, one gets the sense that the apocalypse has come and gone and another, perhaps more horrifying, devolution of humanity has occurred. There are passing references to cults, and gypsys that go unexplained. The remainder of humanity that the little family encounters is afraid of itself -- and well it should be. We are dealing with a sparsely populated world where the Thunderdome would be a welcome beacon of hope.
But with the boy and his papa, we celebrate the little victories of the good. They find food, they find tools, each little useful object lifts your heart. At the same time, we know from the father's first cough, that this story cannot have the ending you pray for all along.
In the end, the bleak setting and the danger is not the source of the story. The darkness all around the the father and son exist to set this relationship in stark relief. No parent can read this interaction and remain unmoved. The stoccata style of questioning that is only natural in a dialog between a child and an adult quickly hits home. The simple, yet profound questions that every parent encounters, and somehow must answer, strike an all-too-familiar tone.
Its the depth and warmth of that profound and completely human bond that kept me reading. You can't help but to project yourself into the situation. Would I give up? Would I have the strength of this father? Is he even doing the right thing by continuing on in this world? In a way, they are questions that we all encounter. They are questions that probably parents from time immemorail have encountered.
The Road was a very emotional read for me. That's something I wold almost never say about the book. But while it was emotional, it never manipulated. You wanted to be along on this Road. I am glad I was.
This was my first Ray Bradbury novel. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I have read a few of his short stories, but they seemed to be "hard"...moreThis was my first Ray Bradbury novel. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I have read a few of his short stories, but they seemed to be "hard" science fiction in a way that did not appeal to me. Perhaps it is because Fahrenheit 451 continues to meld closer to the culture with time, but at this stage, it hardly seems to be set in a futuristic setting at all.
The central notion of the evolution of firemen from someone who fights fires to someone who sets fire to books and their covetors was captivating for me. It reminded me of something I read in law school about the evolution of the notorious horse salesman to the modern mechanic. The occupation evolved with technology and societal need.
The other thing that will stay with me about the book is the interesting discourse on fire -- source of destruction ala the book burnings and Atomic weapons, but also source of light -- symbol of the resistance to the tyranny of the modern dark ages. Also a place of warmth, for comraderie, even for the preparation of nurishment. It was an interesting contrast in its destructive and constructive character. Perhaps that also serves as a metaphor for mankind in this book.
Well anyway, not to wax too philosophical, but it was a fine work. There is an interesting afterword from Bradbury that is kind of a rant against minorities. He seems overly worried about self-censorship that stems from sensitivity. He seems to anticipate the worst excesses of political correctness. Fortunately, society at large seems to have moved beyond this discussion. What now seems most prophetic in Bradbury's book is the endless profusion of talking heads on television saying nothing. In Fahrenheit 451, they had managed to individualize the experience of television through some clever software. I really don't think that such an experiment is that far off. We already have some interesting experiments with interactive television. (less)