Tuesday, August 21, 2012

All the difference

The Road was one of the most bleak and depressing books I've read in a very long time.

A nameless father and a nameless son journey across a post-apocalyptic America after an unnamed catastrophe that has wiped out most life on earth. They trudge through ashes of a burned-out world, scrounging for non-perishable food items hidden in ghost towns, running away from cannibals, stepping over long-mummified bodies of fellow citizens along the way.

Amid the despair, their love for each other and their barely-alive hope that they will encounter other "good guys" are manifest in evolving but timeless ways.

Still, it's an incredibly gloomy portrait of how kindness survives. Half of the hopelessness and helplessness comes from not knowing what the characters don't know themselves: the how and the why of what happened to the world.

McCarthy's writing style mimics the barren wasteland he has created: there are no quotation marks, few proper nouns, few apostrophes. Sentences and dialogues are short.

I might need to go watch The Care Bears for a while. But in the meantime, this poem that I've always liked by Walter d la Mare might serve as a good transition from McCarthy's despairingly desolate scenes:

The Listeners
Walter de la Mare 

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champ'd the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Lean'd over and look'd into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplex'd and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirr'd and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starr'd and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
'Tell them I came, and no one answer'd,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

The silence surging softly backward has always been a particularly poignant image.

OK, time for Care Bears.