The Road

When all this economic tumult started I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. What a thoroughly depressing book.

The plot revolves around a man taking his son down from the cold and very arid North-Eastern US to the warmer though still very arid Soutwest US, through a landscape rendered lifeless by an unnamed catastrophe. On the way they encounter bands of cannibals who follow the roads leading katamites (sex slaves) in chains, or keep other human beings in basements chained up so they can feast on them limb by limb – hacking their limbs off while their victims are still alive, boiling  them in a pot or impaling them on stakes and so on. In one scene, man and boy stumble on a cooking pot in the woods after seeing a pregnant woman with two men trudging along the road. In the cooking pot is a newborn, evidently the woman’s.

People eat each other because every other form of life has been wiped off the face of the earth by this unnamed acopalypse, in which terrible fires swept the globe, reducing the forests to carbon, covering the planet’s surface with ash, choking even the seas. In the end, the man dies but all this grey is capped by a triumpth of love over death in the form of the man’s love for his son, a faint glimmer of hope for humanity, life, God in this love.

Yeah. Sure.

This is one of those books that, because of the author’s reputation and the apocalyptic theme, is automatically rendered ‘A Great Book’. But frankly, if you’re going to depress the hell out of me – and the thought of a future where no life exists except scattered bands of crazed human, where a woman would consign her own newborn to a cooking pot, is profoundly depressing, especially when the papers are forecasting a return to the Great Depression, as they were this fall – then it better be for good reason. And ‘The Road’ is no good reason. Basically, it is just some hokey fantasy, a ’28 Days driven by luminous prose.

Take the whole reason why people become cannibals, the unnamed Apocalypse. Only three things could render the earth so utterly desolate – nuclear war, the extreme end of global warming where methane fireballs roar off the oceans, eviscerating everything in their path, or a giant asteroid that creates a thousand year night like the asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs. In either of these three scenarios, ‘The Road’ is impossible. If we choose all-encompassing nuclear war, then the radiation would make it impossible for human beings to survive more than a few months, never mind form bands to eat each other. If it was eternal night or methane fireballs, ditto – except that I think (though I’m no biologist) that if humans could manage to live, breathe, talk – and eat each other –  in Earth’s poisoned atmosphere, then so could say grubs, cockroaches, rats, and some of kind lower form of life in the oceans. I mean we are on the very high end of the food chain after all. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be the greatest place to live, maybe the eatin’ could be better, but  – there would be things to eat. Roots? Termites? Slime? Maybe some humans would turn to cannibalism to supplement their diet, for kicks – some people do it now, for no reason at all – but I don’t think it would be the only choice.

The Road is a fake, like so much literature that comes out now. It has nothing to do with where are now, or where we might be in the future. One thing I hope this downturn changes is our taste for fakes –  like meaningless celebrity, they’ve reigned supreme for far too long.