Wednesday, May 20, 2009

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

Ol' Cormac's Pulitzer- and Oprah-winning The Road is a good literary horror novel with some brilliantly written passages (as one would expect from McCarthy), but it founders in its attempt to construct a Christian allegory out of pulp horror materials. Too often the keenly observed scenes of horror are artificially alleviated by scenes of rather sappy sentimentality, reminding me as I read that dystopias are exactly inverted utopias. This 'insight' may not be as banal and obvious as it sounds, so let me expand it a bit. If a utopia is the result of sentimentality projected outward into a beneficent imaginary world, then a dystopia might result from the retreat of sentimentality into the self, a vacuum-like sucking of every last particle of sentiment out of the world until only the author and his/her surrogates are capable of human emotions. The problem inherent in attempting a Christian allegory in such an inhuman world is obvious, and McCarthy fails to overcome it. His richly imagined pulpy mayhem drowns his ostensible Christian intentions. But his book is still a damned interesting failure. In fact, considered as a horror novel instead of a work of literary fiction, it's not a failure at all--more of a flawed success. As a work of literary art, it's a potentially great novel marred by the author's ideology/theology.

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