The Corey Vilhauer Book of the Month Club: April 2007

April 2, 2007 | 5 3 min read

coverReading can be rewarding.

I’m late to this party. Everyone has been expounding on their love for this month’s book – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But before Oprah, and before the Tournament of Books, and especially before the hype and praise and high expectations, I decided I’d better give this book a shot. So, essentially, I read The Road just a few weeks before it went from hidden gem to full-out media blitz.

I read it nearly straight through, in three sleepless nights. I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to put it down.

While following The Road’s main characters – a father and his son – down into the horrible world of post-apocalyptic wasteland, I felt I owed these characters something – that I needed to continue reading to make their sacrifices pertinent. To make their suffering worthwhile.

I was left wordless. I couldn’t think of anything but the book. The tortured landscape. The bands of wild rebels, roaming along the roads, searching and hiding and turning everything they could into a viable source of nutrition. Fighting for their lives in the most terrible ways.

Reading The Road leaves nothing but thought. It spells out the special bond between father and son, especially when put to the test. It shows survival like no other. How hard it is to break a spirit. How long it takes a man to die inside, and what that does to the body outside.

It leaves you wondering why the world has, for the most part, ended? We barely know. For our own protection, I assume. Could we take the truth? Isn’t it enough to walk alongside these vacant, hollowed out corpses, slumming from camp to camp, fearful of not just death, but of how death can come; armed with enough to make it quick – dying being the only escape from capture.

Think of everything we take for granted.

Think about brushing your teeth. About drinking a Coke. Shaving. Wearing clean socks. Living in the same place every day, sleeping in the same bed. Sleeping in a bed at all.

About hearing birds. About seeing the green buds of the forthcoming spring, the dying leaves of the passing autumn.

Think about having friends. Think about remembering the face of those you love. Think about knowing where they are. About where you’re going.

And think about your dreams. Because in The Road, there aren’t any. There’s no time for dreaming – no time for considering what lies ahead, what the people you used to know could be doing or where they ended up. Instead, all you see ahead is dark. The only faces you remember are blurred. The only tie to your former life is a child that was born after the destruction, after the killing, after the world slowly spun away, leaving nothing but a charred remain, a zone of impossibility.

Who needs to wait for death when Hell has already made itself known?

After reading The Road, I thought long and hard about what I would do. I thought about the events that led up to this destruction. I considered the role of global warming, of nuclear war, of driving wedges into every peace-deprived location on this ever warring earth. How far are we from total annihilation? How far are we from turning this dystopian wasteland – one under rigid social control not from a group or government, but from nature, specifically human nature’s will to survive – into a true life prophesy?

The Road is a masterpiece. I say that without hyperbole. It’s the best book I’ve read in the past five years. I love the mystery and the subtle reminders of a former life. I love every time McCarthy sends us back a few years, to when people had just begun dying; trying to give us clues as to what really happened.

Really, I’m not sure we could handle what happened. Just like the two lonely souls walking along that road couldn’t bear to look back.

Why would you want to? Maybe that’s something else we take for granted – the idea that memories don’t disappear, and that sometimes looking back can be more harmful than anything we could do to ourselves. When your only way is forward, and your only reprise is death – why would you ever want to look back down the road. Why would it matter where you came from?

The Road. It reaffirms the art of writing fiction. What else can we say about it?

Corey VilhauerBlack Marks on Wood Pulp
CVBoMC 2006, 2007: Jan, Feb, Mar.

is a writer based in South Dakota