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The Road

September 19, 2012

The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I finally read it–and loved it. Not just for McCarthy’s beautiful, skillful writing and his ability to capture the distinct feeling of moments and places.

By setting itself in a “post-apocalyptic” world in which “you would think that nothing would ever happen again,” the story fairly compels itself to arrive at some ground for faith or fail altogether.

At first I thought the title was a lie: the road to where? to what? what kind of road goes nowhere?

But it seemed strangely hopeful to me–like an ambiguous sign that, whatever it means, means also that one should go on reading–that the man through whose thoughts we get most of the story is hounded by the same doubt: that maybe the road he’s cautiously, painfully following is just his way, noble but empty, to give his son a sense of purpose, a sense of destination, to preserve him from the darkness he must face.

It’s the change of heart created through his walking this road (to he-doesn’t-know-where nor how-to-get-whereever-where-is) with his son and watching as his son follows and finally leads him–it’s the change of heart created in the man through walking it that makes it truly a road. “In order to arrive at where you are not, you must go by a way on which you are not.”

The situation the story sets for itself fairly compels it to make some affirmation of faith, some affirmation of transcendence, just as the man must tell his son again and again that “we’re carrying the fire”–even if he himself doesn’t quite know what that means. Towards the end of the book his son will asks him: “is the fire real?”

What’s remarkable, though, is that the story’s affirmation doesn’t come through setting up the image of some other, invisible, eternal world or afterlife, nor through willfully naming some blest but transient moment “reality,” “eternity” (his nightly dreams of just such moments the man knows from the beginning to be death-lures). The kind of faith that carries the story belongs with Abraham’s faith–though grounded on something beyond, it is nevertheless faith for this life, hope communicated through lived realities: “Abraham had faith, and had faith for this life. Yes, had his faith only been for a future life it would have been easier to cast everything aside in order to hasten out of this world to which he did not belong. But Abraham’s faith was not really of that kind, if there is such, for a faith like that is not really faith but only its remotest possibility, a faith that has some inkling of its object at the very edge of its field of vision but remains separated from it by a yawning abyss in which despair plays its pranks. But it was for this life that Abraham believed, he believed he would become old in his land, honored among his people, blessed in his kin, eternally remembered in Isaac, the dearest in his life, whom he embraced with a love for which it was a poor expression to say that he faithfully fulfilled the father’s duty to love the son, as indeed the summons put it: ‘the son whom thou lovest.’ Jacob had twelve son and he loved one; Abraham had just one, the son he loved'” (Kierkegaard, F&T).

I just mean to say that the book actually fulfils what its title promises; it reveals our world in the cold, grey, secular wind, the world dimming away in the glaucoma of some long absent, impersonal eye–it reveals this world, not as a nothing, a thing to be cast aside, but as a genuine road, not as an end, but as a genuine, pilgrim’s path.

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