Et in Hades Ego


Don’t believe The Road is great because of its meditations on the human condition. It ain’t. The Road is an adventure book. … McCarthy spares the ponderous “wisdom” that can sometimes make his work a slog.
Victor LaValle (#3, “The 20 Best Books of the Decade,” Paste Magazine)

Well, the movie marketing execs have definitely taken this view. See: the trailer. I hope the director didn’t.

This is twice in a week that I’ve encountered a similar snide aside from a movie/book review concerning McCarthy. From an old Texas Monthly movie review of No Country for Old Men:

But the directors have also imbued the film with their own trademark sensibility, a dry comic bite that neatly tempers McCarthy’s more pretentious flights of literary fancy. The result is a feat of alchemy: a film that somehow feels truer to the spirit of McCarthy than McCarthy’s novel, and one that brings the Coens ingeniously full circle. (#)

This sort of thing makes me feel that “Philistine” should remain a valid epithet. “Pretentious” means “Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed; making an exaggerated outward display; ostentatious, showy” (OED). McCarthy’s fiction pretends to nothing. And please, for all that is holy, please, please let there be more ponderous wisdom and literary flights of fancy such as these.

Because the former reviewer is 100% incorrect, The Road is not an adventure story. If John Grisham rewrote it, it would be five and a half pages long, maybe six. And, especially when you consider that it is science fiction (a similar science fiction review derided it as derivative and unoriginal with reference to apocalyptic imaginings), you realize that it’s nothing drastically original in terms of either plot or circumstance (Octavia Butler’s work, in particular, has a similarly dark view of human nature and the fragility of civilization).

Because The Road is not an adventure story, it is poetry. The language is haunting and sparse. Nothing happens. It feels like the end of the world. In Mad Max and every other apocalyptic action movie, we get the perverse thrill of destruction or the fine ride through a world which, though barbarous, is also adventurous again. There is nothing like that in The Road. All one can feel, in the end, is hopelessness, the hopelessness of all things ruined. As The Judge remarks in Blood Meridian:

This you see here, these ruins … do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again.

Except this time, we are not in the mythical Eden of the West, but in a hopeless, grey hell.

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