Cormac McCarthy & The Road

The London Times ranks The Road #1 in its list of the 100 Best Books of the Decade. The best of the best. If you click thru all 17 pages (which contain a number of cool titles) you wind up at the post apocalyptic novel penned by Cormac McCarthy.

The Road by Cormac McCarthyI normally bring along a book to the coffee shop for my morning espresso. There I'll read a few pages while trying to wake up.

No other book has generated so much conversation. All kinds of people (men/women, young/old, etc.) stop by to mention how much they enjoyed it. Some wax passionate. (One guy said he read it 3 times.)

This surprises me. Cuz it's not a happy story. By any stretch. The story focuses on a dad and his young son in a difficult situation.

So it's easy for me to relate. (Maybe too easy.) But I doubt I'd read it otherwise. Others have said they tried but found it too depressing.

The book won the 2007 Pulitzer for Fiction. Worth noting perhaps, is that McCarthy did not show to personally accept the award. (Reminds me of Marlon Brando & the Oscars.)

McCarthy-the-writer is every bit as interesting as the books he writes. If not more so. (His books are only fiction.)

CM was born in '33. Middle of the Great Depression. So you might assume he'd be inclined to seek after fortune & fame. And you'd be wrong.

He spent many-a-year living in poverty .. focusing on his writing. To this day he shuns interviews. With the exception of talking to Oprah once (.. reportedly done as a favor to his long-time editor who'd recently retired) he refuses media interviews (.. which might bolster his publicity and therefore sale$).

It's refreshing to find someone who 'made it' without selling their soul .. especially in this day and age .. when so many seem enchanted by the glitter.

McCarthy is somewhat of a literary rebel. He doesn't, for example, use quotation marks .. or even grammatically correct sentences. [ My English prof once said, When you break the rules, it either succeeds wonderfully or fails miserably. There's no in-between. ] He doesn't attend book festivals, readings or other places novelists tend to gather.

Consider this » We never learn the name of the man or the boy in the story. (McCarthy just calls them 'the man' and 'the boy'.) Nor do we ever learn what caused the apocalypse .. details that seem unimportant to the author. Or perhaps he views them as distractions. The result » the story focuses more sharply on the *relationship* between the man and his son.

Some might consider McCarthy arrogant. But at his age, and with his list of accomplishments, he has nothing to prove. Like a true artist, he seems concerned only with his art. As one of the guys [John] who approached me at the coffee shop put it » He's the real deal.

[ Blood Meridian, also by McCarthy, is John's favorite book .. ever. He owns a rare collector's edition. It's a historically researched tale of American mercenaries hunting Indians in the Mexican borderland. I dare you, John said, next time you're in a bookstore, to open a copy -- at any random spot -- and read a page or two. Bet you won't be able to stop. ]

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Cormac McCarthyBorn in '33 .. let's see .. that makes him what? 76? So you might think his mind isn't as sharp as it used to be. Again you'd be wrong .. obvious from reading just a few pages.

McCarthy has a son who is 11 or 12 (.. John Francis, who the book is dedicated to). CM actually blushed when Oprah asked if the novel was a love story to his son. McCarthy admits that having a son when he's older is more precious than having one when young. (Most guys would agree.)

He normally doesn't autograph his books, but for The Road he signed 250 copies and gave them to his son, who will sell them when he turns 18. What do you think they'll be worth?

My friend John (from the coffee shop) tried to get McCarthy to sign his collectors edition of Blood Meridian (.. his #1 favorite book of all time). He called McCarthy, sent him an e-mail and even wrote him a letter. McCarthy never responded.

I could cite dozens of passages that resonated with me, especially those that illuminate the man's relationship with his son. Or others that showcase McCarthy's power with words. But for the sake of brevity I'll forgo that to mention only the following passage.

Early in the story, the man reminisces about his wife, now dead, after committing suicide (.. with a flake of obsidian. Sharper than steel. The edge an atom thick.).

From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theater with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either end of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned.

Isn't this how we deal with our own desperate situations? Stored in such memories lie reserves of strength .. which seem to float back up into our consciousness when needed. Which is why this passage rang so true.

I was surprised the author knew was familiar with this mind set. Because it's not something that comes until one is desperate. That single paragragh told me a lot about McCarthy the person. Because it's not something you can create with imaginaton.

Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned. I know that place. Translated into modern gangsta venacular this sentence would be rendered » Bring it. (.. probably with an expletive attached to the end.)

The book, for me, more than anything, is a reminder and a testament to the truth that love makes us far more resilient than we could ever imagine.

Cormac McCarthyThe most enlightening piece I found on the author was an article posted at the Wall Street Journal, dated Nov 20, 2009. See here. Some quotes I found interesting:

I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with [son] John. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is just a waste of time.

I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

In talking to older people who've had good lives, inevitably half of them will say, "The most significant thing in my life is that I've been extraordinarily lucky." And when you hear that you know you're hearing the truth. It doesn't diminish their talent or industry. You can have all that and fail.

Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don't have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything.

There was never a person born since Adam who's been luckier than me. There's never been a time when I was penniless and down, when something wouldn't arrive. Over and over and over again. Enough to make you superstitious.

Am I a spiritual person? I would like to be. ... It is more important to be good than it is to be smart. That is all I can offer you.

WSJ: What kind of reactions have you gotten to "The Road" from fathers?

CM: I have the same letter from about six different people. One from Australia, one from Germany, one from England, but they all said the same thing. They said, "I started reading your book after dinner and I finished it 3:45 the next morning, and I got up and went upstairs and I got my kids up and I just sat there in the bed and held them."

I'd like to see the movie some day, but I'm not yet ready for that. It was difficult enough, for example, to watch Evelyn. Viggo, who stars in the film, also has one son with whom he is close. So I guess that made him an ideal candidate.

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This page contains a single entry by Rad published on May 26, 2010 5:26 AM.

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