Friday, September 7, 2007

The Road

Labor Day be gone and school be in session again.

As Omar says, "Indeed."

85 summer reading papers on my desk, but two different versions of James Brown's "Live at the Apollo" lined up on my CD player, so all can't be not well.


And I re-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and No Country for Old Men last week in preparation of teaching one (The Road) and offering the other as a choice book. Plus, the Coen's film of No Country comes out in a couple of months.

I liked No Country for the second time, saw it more as a rumination on how terrifying it might be if god actually walked the earth (to say nothing of existed) than as a bitchy complaint of how things are so much worse than they used to be.

That said, as far as I can tell, it takes place in the early '80s, which sets it up well for the Coen's line from Raising Arizona: "I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn't easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House."

The Road, meanwhile, is deadly. Shattering. One of the best books I've read in a long time, but one of those that I can't honestly recommend to other people. At least not without reservation.

Why am I teaching it, then?

Its material matters, I think.

It's entirely engrossing.

It asks fundamental questions.

It fits in perfectly with The Stranger and Beloved, not because they treat similar material in a similar fashion, but because each takes its own perfect, unique look at hope, death, memory, and -- at least in the case of Beloved and The Road -- love.

It is harrowing, and I did feel a bit odd sitting in my empty classroom last week crying as I finished it, but what it does, I think, is apart from anything else I've read in a long, long time.

Nick Hornby, in the new issue of The Believer, remarks that the book is about suffering. Period. And while the suffering is impressive and affective and effective, he doesn't find (or doesn't seem to find, given how he ends his remarks) much more than that. That, while miserable, it isn't complicated. I disagree. I think there's something incredibly complicated in exploring the possibility that it means as much (if not more) to live with love than with hope.

Plus, there's the matter of memory, of legacy, of movement, of the moment when he finds the sextant on the boat, the can of Coke, of how "He could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own."

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