Having seen a variety of forward references to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road I decided to broaden my reading horizon between the here-and-now of Jodi Picoult and the when-is-that of Neal Stephenson. I wouldn’t call it science fiction, in the sense that everything in the book is completely plausible and accessible today; it’s a book without faster than light travel, direct computing implants, or intelligent exoskeletons. The only exotic chemicals involved are fear and love. It also won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The Road is remarkably dark. It’s depressing, but only until you reach the end and literally look back on the road traveled. My first thought upon finishing it was that it was a bad choice to bring on a 6-day business trip, because I wanted nothing more than to hug my own family at the end. My next thought was a reflection on a review written immediately after the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. The critic’s words appeared in the Asbury Park Press, not only the largest newspaper of central New Jersey but also the hometown voice of the true Boss of the Garden State. The reviewer, upset that Darkness lived up to its name, ended his review imploring “Bruce, turn on the lights.” It’s one of the few pieces of music critique I’ve remembered, now going on thirty years. At the end of the book, I wanted someone to turn the lights on, tell me it was a bad dream, and push away the darkness. But to do so would be to miss the point.
The Road is a dark love story. It’s a darkness for which there’s no savior light; it’s just a dark world that is all too easily imagined. Everything about the book makes you uncomfortable, throws you off your cadence, from the inconsistent punctuation of contractions to the fact that only one character is given a name, something of permanence and memory. The persistent theme, through the pages and through time, is love, between a father and son, and of times and things possibly forgotten.
So I followed the conclusion of The Road with a listen to Darkness, all the way through, the way it was conceived and put on vinyl. After Racing in the Street I took an historical pause because that’s where I would have flipped over the record. On the other end of that road is The Promised Land. The lights are on there, as they may be beyond McCarthy’s road in the book.