Friday, 20 June 2008

Cormac McCarthy's The Road: Guys Like It Because It's Basically a Father-Son Story

Rolande came up with the best explanation for the extraordinary popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Road: it portrays a tender relationship between a man and his son which is something many men lack and most men crave. Such depictions are relatively rare in fiction, and, since the context is a horrific end-of-the-world setting, liking the novel can’t be construed as liking something sentimental.

The occasion for our discussion was the last get-together of the season for the Durochères, a group of women who have been meeting once a month for more than 25 years except during July and August. Most of us were neighbors when the group began, and while several have moved, the conversations have the same intimacy you find among people who have shared an interest for a long time. This time as the discussion progressed it became clear that none of us liked the book very much, some of us were surprised that the mother in the book killed herself rather than face the lonely after-Apocalypse world, and everyone was puzzled at the extremely positive critical reaction. Our response was very similar to what my cousin Cathy reports took place in her reading group in Nevada: a couple of women found the ending hopeful, but the rest found it very hard going.

Had it not been for Rolande’s elegant analysis (and I should mention that Rolande is definitely a woman's name in French, and that she’s an artist, not a literary expert, a writer, or a psychologist) I would have been even more annoyed by the list of summer reading the morning man on Radio Canada gave this morning. The Road made his top half dozen: a master piece, he said. Here’s the link: as I write this his selections haven’t been posted yet but they should be by the end of the day:

Another indication that there are real differences between men and women that show up in the most surprising ways? I think not, because male reactions to the book show that tender feelings are there, it’s just that most men have a long way to go before they can admit to them openly. The Road may be simply a path they must take before they get there.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis. I am a fan of Cormac McCarthy (and a man). I love his tight, sparse and evocative prose, but The Road left me underwhelmed. The writing was good again, of course, and there were some powerful scenes, but it's mostly dead weight: hungry, not hungry, hungry, get food, lose food, die, etc.

But, as your friend Rolande observes, men (still bossing the book industry) found a relationship they crave in a context they could trust would not undermine whatever idea of masculinity they had sussed out for themselves. So, up the must-read lists it climbed.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Very good plot summary: "hungry, not hungry, hungry, get food, lose food, die, etc."

Of course, there are only a few stories and how you tell them is all important. But this version of this story just doesn't speak to me.