What a strange, aimless time of year this is. It’s 3:25 pm. Outside it is forbiddingly gloomy. Warm, humid, and pouring rain. It’s like when we were in Brighton, UK, back in December 2012. I drank all afternoon and evening on a night like this, talking supporter-owned football with one of the experts.
But that was in England, and this is Durham, NC, where I sit with a variegated group of people who are as disoriented as I am. Nobody’s working at this hour on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
If it was 20 degrees colder and windy, it would feel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I finished reading this morning.
McCarthy’s bleak scenario is plausible and well-earned. But there were a few off-notes that distracted me.
At one point the boy uses the term “retard” in the way that children do. The problem here: Who did he learn this word from? We’re told that he was born shortly after the apocalypse, and we’re not told of any playmates he had during the chaotic first years of his life.
Late in the story, the man and the boy are ambushed by a sniper using a bow and arrow. The man is hit, but he returns fire and kills the archer with… a flare gun. It’s the kind of brilliant, lucky marksmanship that only occurs in movies and in Dealey Plaza, so it was distracting here.
Finally, the man is well aware during much of the book that he is gravely ill. So, I found it odd that he spent so little time preparing his son to go it alone. He talks a lot about “carrying the fire” (more movie talk), but I’m not sure he ever actually made sure his son could make a fire.
But these are small quibbles about a haunting, evocative book. One thing I particularly appreciate is that McCarthy absolutely does not glamorize survivalism. Among young boys and middle-aged men there is a longing for a catastrophic event that destroy the dull routine of our lives and let us prove our mettle. But nobody finishes The Road wishing to have a similar experience.
It’s 4 pm. This is a time for neither work nor play, but the bar is filling up. There are a couple of families with young children here. One of the kids even has a tricycle that he’s rolling. He leaves the trike in the middle of the barroom floor and walks away. The barback sees it a few minutes later, and returns it to the family’s table in the corner.