Ms. Synder cites an incident in which her 12-year-old son watched The Ring and was seriously creeped out by it. I’ll admit that at the age of 30 when I saw it, *I* was pretty creeped out by The Ring too. But are her son and I really the worse for it? Okay, maybe we’re not better for it either, but it’s just a movie. It’s not a big deal to be creeped out by something, to spend a restless night or two. In fact, I *might* be better for it because I asked myself, “Why is this movie pushing my buttons, and how can I use that in my fiction?”* As a kid the thing that scared me the most was Disney’s Headless Horseman, shown on TV without a thought. On the other hand, my parents wouldn’t let me see Poltergeist. Probably a good call. I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t be involved or that the MPAA does a good job, but, really, is it necessary to protect everyone from everything?
*It’s my theory that revenants are particularly scary because all they really want is revenge. They can’t be reasoned with, their only purpose in death is to destroy the living. You can’t do much with that and helplessness is a pretty universal fear. On a personal level, The Ring hits on a couple of things that make me uneasy: confined spaces and water…in confined spaces. I would not do well being trapped at the bottom of a well.
Book #14 — The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I once again feel like people have been telling me that there’s a giraffe in the closet…
Among my failings as student of literature, I will freely admit that I have no head for allegory and satire. I’ve known this since 9th grade when I finished Orwell’s Animal Farm. Oh, I know that the book isn’t *really* about talking animals and barnyard politics, but I couldn’t make the historical leap. Especially considering that I didn’t really know the history in 9th grade. In fact, I would have been happier reading about the history. Maybe I’m a lazy reader, maybe I’m unsophisticated, or maybe instead of trying to figure out what the writer is saying but isn’t saying, I look at other things in a book.
With that preface I will say that I just don’t get Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
I did not find the ultra-minimalist prose interesting. The man (no name) and the boy (no name) are traveling south on the road (no name). Everything is gray and ash-covered because something has happened to the world. I’ve just spoiled over 270 pages of the book with those two sentences. The details are nil.
I will try to recount my experience of this book:
In the first sixty pages of the mass-market media tie-in edition, we learn that the boy’s mother committed suicide sometime after the boy was born and the world went to unspecific pot. As a reader I wondered, would a mother really act that way? I could see her making off with the boy and killing them both, and I could see her insisting, hope beyond hope, to keep the boy alive even when it might be better not to. But, fine. Who know how anyone would act with the world crumbling? I also wondered briefly if the man might not be better off on his own without the boy, but the notion was baseless speculation.
The next 210 pages are the unrelenting “adventures” of the man and the boy. Amid the gray and the ash, there are groups of people who may or may not be bad. The man and the boy successfully hide from them or run away from them. Amid the gray and ash, the man and the boy starve and get cold. Food and blankets are found after characters suffer for a while. After these perils were averted a couple of times, they lost credibility with me. It became obvious that both the man and the boy would make it to nearly the end of the book despite the horrors. By page 200, I kind of wished that the recently found jars of food *were* poisoned and they’d both die. I’ve never before wished death on another writer’s characters before. I don’t know how this is going to make an interesting movie.
By the end of the book, I wondered if maybe the man’s perception of the world wasn’t just a tad on the mentally ill side. Again, I’m an optimist when it comes to the human race. I don’t see the whole of human society sinking back to animalistic levels, no matter what the calamity.
I’ve read a couple of reviews of the book and nearly all mention that this is a fable, a warning, a cautionary tale, and mutter vaguely about it being an environmental novel. For the life of me, I don’t see what I’m being warned against. We’re never given a reason why this apocalypse has happened. If the warning is, “Mankind, do not continue down your current road,” the message is a vague cope-out and a mixed message as well. The road in the book is an ambivalent space. It contains both good and bad. While you might easily be seen on the road and meet other (bad) travelers, it’s takes you where you think you want to go; without its necessity, you’re cold and hungry in the wilderness.
If McCarthy’s intent is to elicit a reaction, I suppose it’s a job well-done. I’ve just written more about it than many other books combined. If his intent was to tell a well-structured story, I can’t give it a pass.