You could have blown me over with a feather. News has arrived that Oprah Winfrey, the Queen of Hope and Affirmation, has chosen Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" her next book club choice. The novel I jokingly refer to as "Despair with Canned Goods" -- readers will get the joke -- seems like an improbable choice for an audience accustomed to finding hope in despair through Oprah. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world with the one woman character eliminated early on -- not much room for the feminine in McCarthy's world.
Not that I dispute the book's excellence, or the wisdom of putting more copies of this book in the hands of readers (maybe 900,000, if you believe the figures about the Oprah-blessed print run). I thought this novel, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle fiction award, would have made a worthy winner. There's something archetypal about this story of grimly realistic man and his naive, idealistic son, and it taps into our post-9/11 fears in a way that no other book has done.
But hope? I'm not sure that's a word that fits into McCarthy's vocabulary. What say you?
Actually, strangely enough, I did find "The Road" hopeful. After all, it's the boy -- the idealist, as you say -- who survives, thanks to his dad's sacrifices. The duo's grim crossing over a relentlessly "Mad Max"-like landscape reminded a lot of reviewers of "Waiting for Godot." But it certainly has a happier ending than the open-ended Beckett play, if anything can be called happy in either of those bare universes.
I loved "The Road" and am happy Oprah is introducing it to more readers. I wanted the dad and his son to stay longer with those canned goods, but I guess life doesn't allow us to stand still. It's good to be reminded that when you strip the earth down to its essentials, there are some things terrorists can never take away: love, parental devotion and the innate goodness of children not yet corrupted by adults.
But then again, I like Cormac McCarthy's last novel, "No Country For Old Men," which was pretty grim, too. Grim novels for grim times, I say.
Way to give away the ending!! One of its weaker points, I might add...