Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Long and Winding...
"The Road"
by Cormac McCarthy

The landscape is barren. Ash constantly falls from the gray sky. When it snows the snowflakes are gray, and when it rains the rain washes away nothing. There is no sustainable life. Only a handful of people survive on America's continent, and there is no knowledge of the outside world or if anything is across the ocean. Through it all twists a road, a road that leads to the coast. On it are a man and his little boy, and because they are alive there is hope.

This is the setting for Cormac McCarthy's haunting novel, The Road, about a man and his son's journey along a road in a searing apocalyptic world. The man has seen the world change, while his son has only known the barren, ashen world they live in. They are the past and the future. While electronics scatter the stores, the food shelves are empty, and everything they cross is some depressing relic of the past. The boy sees this and all he knows is this, his strong intuition makes him the realist of the two, and he often has to tell his father to do what's best for both of them. The man, on the other hand, exercises blind hope. He's seen what can be, he's known a better life, he wants that for his son. And so they struggle. The dynamic is astounding.

McCarthy never lets on how the world got this way, only hints at it, but that becomes beside the point. What really matters is this man and his son, their survival, their constant struggle to reach the coast, their love for each other, their hope. What becomes of it is a multilayered allegory about love and hope in the most desperate times, about the human condition - its faults, and its strengths - and the power of the Earth.

I was completely enthralled with this novel, which isn't much of a compliment to McCarthy. It's something you expect when you read him. He is, in my opinion, the best American writer alive today. His writing is so powerful, so rich in meaning, and his characters as real as if you came upon them in the street (most of them would make you cringe, though, given how hardened and tough they have become due to the circumstances of their lives).

McCarthy writes like a poet. His words are perfect, each one plucked delicately out of the universe and put on the page as if no other word could live there. You read a McCarthy sentence or paragraph or section and you get a feeling, even if the words might make little sense. He is a master of creating tone, and a brilliant wordsmith.

So, what can I say, I highly recommend this novel, it's unbearably heartwrenching at times and full of life at others. You might weep a little, you might laugh, you'll definitely emote. It's McCarthy's most accessible novel, and also one of his best. One last recommendation: if you find a section that you really like, read it out loud, hear the words, and how their combination creates a feeling. Just like a good poem, listening to it sometimes completely changes it. And it's usually for the better.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Some Deathly Reading
"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows"
by J.K. Rowling

Holy crap these books are good. J.K. Rowling's ability to grow with her audience, to darken the themes and write a great story that young adults and older young adults can both enjoy is uncanny. It was truly magical reading these books, and the wonderful journey came to an excellent close. Though it did meander a bit, it's all the same in the end. Rowling's themes of fear and power are so profound and timely, these books are classics and highly recommended.

I'd argue with anyone that says different.

In the Stomach
by Jean-Paul Sartre

Nausea has been sitting on my shelf for a good five years, and only after a minor existential crisis of my own was I propelled into a desire to read it. Existentially speaking, I'm looking for meaning in life, not that I'll find it in existentialism, but at least, I thought, I'd hear about the struggle.

Sartre is one of those really cool people that you secretly wish you were if you lived forever and could be five different people of your choice. He was a great philosopher who wrote some really hefty philosophical texts, of which his most famous is Being and Nothingness, and also a fantastic storyteller and wrote plays and novels, No Exit and Nausea being the most accessible. I won't go too much into his philosophy as it would be a moot point other than to say that he supports it well in the novel form.

I'm glad Nausea is a short book, because any more and I'd be sick. Told in the form of the diary of the main character, Antoine Roquentin, it follows his exploits in France as he tries to trace the nausea that crashes over him at random times. Roquentin is a lonely man, and it's his loneliness that follows him around and nearly condemns him to his nausea. It almost seems that Sartre is saying that meaning comes from relationships, that we seek out connection to distract ourselves from existence. In fact, what Roqeuntin comes to find is that the nausea he feels is existence itself, it is realizing that he is and is not at the same time, and when he realizes that, he observes others unintentionally distracting themselves from seeing the same.

I can see why this is one of Sartre's more popular novels. The surreal moments are astounding. Its most surreal moments are utterly graphic and somewhat disturbing (but I found that fun), and it's meandering plot does end up having a point, but it is a difficult book to get through because of its subject matter. There is no mystery to solve. Instead, there is one man and his random encounters with objects, former lovers, and other odd sorts of people. I must say that I did like it, though, and it has left quite an impression on me.

Oh, the existential crisis continues! If you've got time, read it, keep the crisis alive.