Cormac McCarthy: “God Is A Little Boy, And Also Trout”

(x-posted to The Valve)

I’ve just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which set everyone’s hair on fire.

As an example of style, it works; the book is criss-crossed by references to ash and the aftermath of fire, and despite the single-mindedness of the landscape, and the microscopic focus on the father and the son, the minimalism is a triumph. Literally, there is less to do in the postapocalyptic world than there was in the world of cowboys, and this is a help to McCarthy, who otherwise tends to spend a long time on the insignificant everydayness of craft. For example, he will describe how a horse is saddled, or how a cowboy will secure a gate.

The Road is a Christian parable; that is its most important quality, and its downfall. Another Christian parable is a waste of time; it would be more worthwhile just to re-read the Bible. If anything, the patent religiosity of the text made me realize for the first time that the “larder” scene in novels of scarcity (a more profane example being The Ginger Man) is actually a scene of communion, and sometimes also a scene of baptism, if there is an abundance of clean water.

Earlier this month, I watched Eastern Promises, which had a terrific baptism in it. I won’t be hungry for another baptism for at least six months.

Anyhow, the father and the son nearly starve to death. The moment they began to starve, I began to wait for the scene where they would find a tearjerking superabundance of food. It’s on page 123: the dinner of canned pears.

Over the course of the novel, the father struggles to keep himself and his son alive. Increasingly, the son becomes distant, because he rejects his father’s creed of kinship. The son tries to give food away, first to a little boy, then to an embittered old man, and finally to a thief who attempts murder. Angrily, the father says you’re not the one who has to worry about everything, and the son says, I am the one. I think he did not add “I am the alpha and the omega” because the apocalypse destroyed most of the good courses in ancient Greek.

The wasteland is actually described as “secular.” In the final scene, when the boy is adopted by good people, the woman begins to speak to him about God. The Son, however, is too busy conversing with the Spirit of his departed Father. The woman reasons with him that the breath of God passes between people who converse thus.

The final paragraph of the book is about trout, who mazily puzzle the hours in deep, remembering, mysterious waters. It is not clear who is speaking, since the father is dead. To McCarthy, the deep pools are rumors of God. His editor should be reprimanded, or at least subjected to small practical jokes. McCarthy’s editor, I mean. Not God’s.

I don’t think I could have Cormac McCarthy over for dinner. It would get awkward. Nervously, I would talk too much, and he would spoon the candied yams without even looking at them.

I recommend watching the trailer for The Golden Compass. In my dreams, that polar bear fights Aslan. I’m mixed in among the crowd, my fist around a wad of bills, yelling Faster, pussycat! Kill, kill!