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Nonsense, Fiction, and Miscellaneous Things

'The Road', Cormac McCarthy

     In Cormac McCarthy's The Road©1, a father and child negotiate a dystopic land in order to escape the coming winter.  Day by day, tin of food by tin of food, they travel southward. 
     The Road© was disappointing.  Plotwise, An occasional nihilist survivor appears only to seem more enervated than threatening.  Themewise, the protagonist's greedless integrity seems more a luck of the draw than a choice for he is stuck in an environment lacking  things of which to be greedy thus the non-covetous with it's embedded integrity becomes a default condition.  Stylewise,  the narratives melancholic pinings miss a sense of perspicaciousness.  The cumulative effect of the pinings is one of decoration. The desiderations seem as necessary to a post-apocalyptic land as decorative Santa Clauses and decorative snowflakes are necessary to Christmas.  The effect of these disappointments was to give the book the ill luck of seeming sentimental and something of a didactic fable.
     I had been looking forward  to the dystopic setting but it was less adventuresome than I'd hoped.  McCarthy's dystopia is characterized by the freely mobile, lack of enforcing authorities, and the negation of a status-quo.  Wandering,  hunger, exposure to the elements - none of which are necessarily boring or false - mark  the day to day existence.  Under this set of conditions, the mannered civility of the protagonists seems too far-fetched. To some degree, the characters - both major and minor - are portrayed as peons to a physical universe.  Their autonomy, as well as most of the qualities which are part of the living human condition, are dulled by suffering.  Admittedly, staying fed - and preferably warm - are understandable demands of a post-apocalyptic portrayal but the kinetic potential of the anarchical setting deflates with each grudging step of the the characters journey toward warmth.  Pampering the reader with a didactic saw of civilized melancholy as the means by which fearsome facts of a post-apocalyptic land can be successfully negotiated seems at best sentimental and almost certainly not literary.  The saw dowily pokes the readers' dire concerns with an heedless urging of civilized sensibleness in a time when civilized as a modification equates with disaster.  McCarthy's replacing aesthetics with a morality play doesn't seem to me as literary . . . except possibly as literary disaster. 
     Nor does McCarthy's tools and techniques for creating and enhancing a dystopic mood save the unfortunately weak story.  The Road becomes, at best, a story for courses about stories rather than a story for courses about the human condition.  The tools, the analytics, the skilled representation become the 'story' to be talked about. 
     In the end - what  I had expected would be an adventure novel with a literary bent - seemed, instead, a product by a contemporaneous author attempting a modern day fable written on, of all things, parchment paper.  Maybe the book started out as a writing prompt which got out of control. 
     Had the movie Mad Max©'s plot been as didactic and fortuitous as The Road, the whole of post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, probably, would have ended before it had ever begun.

     1The Road, Cormac McCarthy,
Vintage Books, ©2006 M-71, Ltd.
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