Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

It took me two days to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's been some time since I read a Pulitzer Prize-winner. I've read Executioner's Song and intend to read Klavier and Clay, especially since Michael Chabon has a story in an upcoming Lovecraft tribute anthology. I expected some excellent writing.

Just after I'd cracked the book, I walked down to the post office with it in my hand. I never go to the Post Office without a book, and I think you know why. On that day I was told twice, both time by older (over 65) individuals whom I did not know that the book was depressing. I did not retort that because I had read a lot of Harlan Ellison post-apoc stuff, I was expecting hugs and puppies. I like post-apocalyptic stories. I've enjoyed the Fallout games, as well as Canticle for Liebowitz, I am Legend, Gate to Women's Country, as well as Beyond Thunderdome, Damndation Alley, and various other films. I would call myself well-read in the genre, but I've got some background in it.

Unfortunately, The Road tugs on a heart-string I don't seem to have. As with Dan Simmons' Children of the Night, the story tugs very heavily on the child in peril theme. Which, apparently, doesn't work with me. So there is a dimension to the story that was clearly missing for me, especially as the whole book is the relationship between the unnamed man and his child.

However, I had a lot of difficulty getting past the inconsistencies in the story. One might say that the story is a fable, and therefore the details don't matter, but the details do matter.

Problem; they are constantly discovering dried corpses. At the same time, it is constantly raining. Now, it never rains when they discover the dried corpses, but some are leftover from the cataclysm (never mentioned). How is it that these dried bodies survive in such a wet environment? Wet encourages rot, unless all the microbes are gone. Which, I suppose is a possibility. There are no living trees in the book, no living plants at all, and no animals, either. To me, it seems strange and unlikely that all the plants are gone. Without them, what is producing the oxygen that the humans breathe, especially after large areas were burned, consuming much oxygen?

Ecosystems change, adapt, and abide. The real problem with a nuclear war or other major disaster is not that it will destroy all life on earth, but that it will wipe out humanity. We are far more sensitive to changes in condition than the entire ecosystem of the Earth. Mass extinctions have happened before, and life always has found a way.

The Devil, as they say, is in the details. And while the plot of The Road was engaging, and the use of language clever, the above details threw me. I try not to be a hard-science asshole, but this bothered me, and lowered my opinion of the book.

As post-apocalypse literature, I thought it was OK. Gate to Women's Country beats it by a country mile.

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