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Monday, January 05, 2009

Road Whoas

For Christmas the Loquacious one gave me a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006), which proved an unexpectedly apt holiday gift. The book is the story of a somewhat harrowing father-child road trip, and well, we had one this year, me, Mrs. TMcD, Goofball Jones, and "Ricky Bobby" (the pre-born one) as we rode from TN to OH via eastern KY and WV.

We got a late start leaving Lexington after lunch on day 2, having decided to hang around and do some last minute shopping in the morning. Probably should have known something loomed when first one interstate (I-75, the one we thought we were gratefully leaving) was accident clogged and then the next, I-64, had us driving past a school bus accident involving a totaled SUV, a bus with a long, low, side panel missing, and what looked like a bunch of healthy kids jumping out into a field to sit in the cold drizzle. That was not the last totaled SUV we would see, nor the last accident-in-process. Apparently, we were driving at that magical moment where low-30s temps, light rain, hilly roads, and long bridges make Johnny go crash. An hour later, after fishtailing across one bridge at 30 mph, we watched in the rearviews as the next SUV over started spinning like Brian Boitano before plowing into the railing. Pull over, you say? Find a place to stop for the night? Ever driven through eastern KY? Nothing. By the time we knew exactly how bad it was, we were 30 miles from as much as a gas station. Most of the bridges we surfed across (at 5 mph!) had accidents already, and the SUVs were piling up like it was the Dukes of Hazzard Do Detroit. I'm sure you northerners are used to this kind of thing, but we southerners are not so experienced. Thankfully, we made it to Grayson, KY intact, but not everyone in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express was so lucky. When we turned on the local news we discovered that the thirty miles we had just traveled had just been closed down, as was much of the road ahead.

So The Road was perfect reading for the aftermath. It's what I would call high-class parenthood porn, one full step above Spielberg's War of the Worlds and another few above Sally Field in Not Without My Baby! McCarthy is in vogue these days, thanks in large part to the success of No Country For Old Men, and he certainly spins an engrossing tale. The elements here are all fairly familiar: an apocalyptic tale that reads like a less hopeful Children of Men or a more sensitive Road Warrior. But McCarthy dresses it up with post-GRE vocabulary games and a sense of mystery that conceals far more of its world than it reveals. A hint, maybe, that there is far less of his world than he conceals. Given his penchant for westerns, some reviewers have apparently been confused about the setting, but he gives us Tennesseans a tip off when our nameless father and son trudge across their freezing, ash strewn hellscape only to find "See Rock City" painted on the roof of a barn. Bonus! I've been 'round here! And now we've got the ash too.

Hard to know for sure, but "the city" through which they trek early on must be either our beloved Chattanooga (of Rock City fame) or Knoxville, the latter a theory convincingly proposed by one grad student road tracker who claims they must start out in--you guessed it--eastern KY. Even better, they appear to head through the NC mountains, very near my Memorial Day haunt, on their way to the SC coast. As anyone who has ever visited the pre-apocalyptic ash strewn hellscape that is Myrtle Beach could have told them, they won't find much redemption there. Spring break, however, appears to be long over.

And yet, this is a story of faith and redemption, and McCarthy weaves religious themes throughout. This is a world the prophets foresaw. Just not the more optimistic ones. The key idea, I think, is the Levinasian notion (Sartre's "hell" inverted) that God is other people. The father who finds God in his son, the son who finds God in the father. Over the last two years, I've often reflected--it is hard not to--that the core experience of biblical faith must be that of parenthood. We all seek the divine, at least those of us who do, in the best of what we can know as human beings. Where Aristotle finds God in reason, pure thought thinking itself eternally, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus find it in the paternal relation, the kind of seemingly selfless love that brings joy through the experience of living for another, the trick on our self-sacrificing self-regard being, of course, that in a decisive sense the other for whom we live is not really "other" at all. And once again inverting Sartre, this is a heaven from which there is an exit.

All of which makes this spectacular movie fodder. Rumor has it Viggo will star.


At 6:48 AM, Blogger Number Three said...

At least there were no cannibals in eastern Ky on your trip (that you encountered).

There is no skill to driving on ice. Driving on snowy roads is indeed a skill. But icy roads are so unpredictable that no one is "good at it." Plenty of people are bad at it--those who drive too fast, for example. It's best to pull off, when one has the option.

I read The Road about a year ago and posted my thoughts here. It is "parent pron," which I think sets it apart from every other "last man on earth" story. It's not just about surviving, but about protecting.

I don't see how they're going to make a successful motion picture, though. The book is so unremittingly gloomy that the thought of spending 2 hours in it does not appeal to me.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Mrs. TMcD also toughed it out a lot better than the mom in the book. I guess the relative lack of cannibals on our trip may help to explain the discrepancy. FWIW, I think the cannibals were mostly in NC not KY.

Funny, I remembered that you had posted on COM but not on The Road. I think I liked it better than you did. But then the atheist character gets left on the road to become road kill, which, as you know means that in TN he can be legally eaten.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Number Three said...

There are laws in TN?


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