23 May 2010

Isocline of Death

"At the tide line a woven mat of weeds and the ribs of fishes in their 
millions  stretching along the shore as far as eye could see like an isocline 
of death. One vast salt sepulchre. Senseless. Senseless."

A few weeks ago I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road for one of my book clubs. I hadn't picked up a McCarthy since a failed attempt to read All the Pretty Horses years ago. The Road has been drifting around on my mental to-read list though, because I knew it was post-apocalyptic, and I tend to love stories that take place during and after the apocalypse. The notable exception to this is the horrible piece of "writing" that is The Last Canadian. It was a weird bit of synchronicity that as I was reading The Road I got a comment on this blog from someone who had found my Last Canadian review on my old angelfire site (that review was from 2003! I keep meaning to take that site down). That message served to remind me of how bad this genre can be in the wrong hands. Fortunately, McCarthy has the right hands.

In short, The Road is about a nameless father and his nameless son. They're traveling south-east to the ocean through a burnt and barren landscape roughly 7 or 8 years after the apocalypse (which is not described, but given the perpetual clouds of ash that block out the sun, I suspect nuclear war). The ocean is their destination, although it is pretty clear that life there will not be any better. The country is sparsely populated with bands of vicious cannibalistic humans, with some good people hiding and trying to survive. In this world, there seems to be no animals left, not many children, and certainly no hope.

I didn't really enjoy The Road. It was slow, and for the longest time nothing seemed to happen. It was written with the bare minimum of punctuation in a weird, almost pompous language, and had no chapter breaks. The world it depicted was so bleak and brutal that there were times I could barely read it for fear of what was going to happen to the characters. It filled me with dread. Then it got slow again. Then it ended oddly and I was left with nothing but questions. By the end, however, I had come to the realization that the writing style, word choice, and pace were perfectly suited to the story. But I really didn't know what I felt about it. I tried to recommend it to people, but I ended up saying things like,"I didn't like it while I was reading it, but now that it's over I think I like it." Then I would get responses like "You're really not selling this book."

This book stayed with me. I couldn't stop thinking about it. My SiL was reading it as well, and we would talk on the phone and email about it constantly. I've just never had this type of reading experience before. I had a pretty visceral reaction to parts of the story, and it's almost like the book haunted me. I just couldn't figure out how I felt about it. So, about a week after finishing it, I decided to read it again.

The second time around I had the benefit of knowing what was coming, so I was able to enjoy the story in the absence of the dread I had felt the first time around. I was able to appreciate the poetry-like language and the building of the story. The second time I enjoyed it. I'm still left with a ton of questions, but having read the book twice I feel better equipped to come up with some answers. My SiL and I are still talking about it. We're both hoping for a really good discussion about it at book club this week. It's the perfect book for interpretation and supposition.I want everyone I know to read it so I have more people to discuss it with.

If you don't like it, I suggest reading it twice.

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