Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Post-Apoc Pop

Post-Apocalypse novels are a dime a dozen these days. That is not to say they are all the same, or that all the themes have been overplayed. However, there are a couple things about this genre that stick in my craw.

The setup for these novels involves some kind of holocaust. This is not a normal catastrophe--we are talking about a full-scale nuclear war, a global pandemic, a high tech attack by extra-terrestrials, a comet-Earth collision or [insert favorite holocaust here] that is barely survivable. Despite the scale of these annihilations, we picture ourselves as the lucky ones who end up survive.

We picture an exciting adventure-filled future with close calls and savage road warlords, but we survive. We see ourselves sneaking through ghost towns searching for food, exploring desolated forests with rifles slung over our backs, eking out a living in near-unlivable conditions. Ultimately, and egotistically, we imagine ourselves surviving. Miraculously we are the few who live to witness the New Age--either a Utopian do-over or an exciting dystopian struggle. The Handmaid's Tale, The Postman, Earth Abides, I Am Legend, 1984 and even films from Mad Max to The Book of Eli. Then you stumble upon The Road.

Everybody's friend and their friend's friend is reading this book. I put a copy of the audiobook (DCPL has the Playaway) on hold and finally got around to "reading" it (Does this count as reading? I think so). The first fifty pages are slow going. Wading through ash in the dim afternoon, getting ready for the next awful existential crisis. I don't want to give anything away, but luckily that's pretty much impossible with The Road. You know from the book jacket that it takes place in the wake of some God-awful event that rendered most of America a nasty, dangerous wasteland.

You are forced to repeatedly ask yourself, Is this worth it? Would I go through this? Albert Camus said the only question is whether or not to kill yourself. I'd rather not go down this philosophical cul de sac, but don't be mistaken: The Road is not for the faint of heart. The clinically depressed might also want to consult their doctor before reading. All joking aside, this book is worth reading for the power of McCarthy's lyrical prose alone. A writer will learn a thing or two about minimalism. A philosophy student will bask in the author's powerful short sentences, his linguistic economy and contemplations. With this book, I'd venture to say that the plot is not nearly as important as the language with which it is described. The way McCarthy lays out the journey is so bittersweet and poetic I think I'll have to read it again. Maybe on the beach this summer instead of the dead of winter.

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