The Road
Cormac McCarthy
Alfred A. Knopf, New York (USA), 2006 (2006)
241 pages

This book, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, became widely known when TV host Oprah Winfrey selected it in March 2007 as a novel for her book club.

"Good guys" who are "carrying the fire".

The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. Often he had to get up. No sound but the wind in the bare and blackened trees. He rose and stood tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckoning. An old chronicle. To seek out the upright. No fall but preceded by a declination. He took great marching steps into the nothingness, counting them against his return. Eyes closed, arms oaring. Upright to what? Something nameless in the night, lode or matrix. To which he and the stars were common satellite. Like the great pendulum in its rotunda scribing through the long day movements of the universe of which you may say it knows nothing and yet know it must.

(Cormac McCarthy: The Road, p. 13)

They walked out to the road and stood. There were tracks in the snow. A wagon. Some sort of wheeled vehicle. Something with rubber tires by the narrow treadmarks. Boot-prints between the wheels. Someone had passed in the dark going south. In the early dawn at latest. Running the road in the night. He stood thinking about that. He walked the track carefully. They'd passed within fifty feet of the fire and had not even slowed to look. He stood looking back up the road. The boy watched him.
We need to get out of the road.
Why, Papa?
Someone's coming.
Is it bad guys?
Yes. I'm afraid so.
They could be good guys. Couldnt they?
He didnt answer. He looked at the sky out of old habit but there was nothing there to see.
What are we going to do, Papa?
Let's go.
Can we go back to the fire?
No. Come on. We probably dont have much time.
I'm really hungry.
I know.
What are we going to do?
We have to hole up. Get off the road.
Will they see our tracks?
What can we do about it?
I dont know.
Will they know what we are?
If they see our tracks. Will they know what we are?
He looked back at their great round tracks in the snow.
They'll figure it out, he said.
Then he stopped.
We need to think about this. Let's go back to the fire.

(Cormac McCarthy: The Road, pp. 87-88)

He started down the rough wooden steps. He ducked his head and then flicked the lighter and swung the flame out over the darkness like an offering. Coldness and damp. An ungodly stench. The boy clutched at his coat. He could see part of a stone wall. Clay floor. An old mattress darkly stained. He crouched and stepped down again and held out the light. Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt. The smell was hideous.
Jesus, he whispered.
Then one by one they turned and blinked in the pitiful light. Help us, they whispered. Please help us.
Christ, he said. Oh Christ.
He turned and grabbed the boy. Hurry, he said. Hurry.
He'd dropped the lighter. No time to look. He pushed the boy up the stairs. Help us, they called.
A bearded face appeared blinking at the foot of the stairs. Please, he called. Please.
Hurry. For God's sake hurry.

He shoved the boy through the hatch and sent him sprawling. He stood and got hold of the door and swung it over and let it slam down and he turned to grab the boy but the boy had gotten up and was doing his little dance of terror. For the love of God will you come on, he hissed. But the boy was pointing out the window and when he looked he went cold all over. Coming across the field toward the house were four bearded men and two women. He grabbed the boy by the hand. Christ, he said. Run. Run.

(Cormac McCarthy: The Road, pp. 93-94)

They went on. It was already late in the day and it was another hour and deep into the long dusk before they overtook the thief, bent over the loaded cart, trundling down the road before them. When he looked back and saw them he tried to run with the cart but it was useless and finally he stopped and stood behind the cart holding a butcher knife. When he saw the pistol he stepped back but he didnt drop the knife.
Get away from the cart, the main said.
He looked at them. He looked at the boy. He was an outcats from one of the communes and the fingers of his right hand had been cut away. He tried to hide it behind him. A sort of fleshy spatula. The cart was piled high. He'd taken everything.
Get away from the cart and put down the knife.
He looked around. As if there might be help somewhere. Scrawny, sullen, bearded, filthy. His old plastic coat held together with tape. The pistol was a double action but the man cocked it anyway. Two loud clicks. Otherwise only their breathing in the silence of the salt moorland. They could smell him in his stinking rags. If you dont put down the knife and get away from the cart, the man said, I'm going to blow your brains out. The thief looked at the child and what he saw was very sobering to him. He laid the knife on top of the blankets and backed away and stood.
Back. More.
He stepped back again.
Papa? the boy said.
Be quiet.
He kept his eyes on the thief. Goddamn you, he said.
Papa please dont kill the man.
The thief's eyes swung wildly. The boy was crying.
Come on, man. I done what you said. Listen to the boy.
Take your clothes off.
Take them off. Every goddamned stitch.
Come on. Dont do this.
I'll kill you where you stand.
Dont do this, man.
I wont tell you again.
All right. All right. Just take it easy.
He stripped slowly and piled his vile rags in the road.
The shoes.
Come on, man.
The shoes.
The thief looked at the boy. The boy had turned away and put his hands over his ears. Okay, he said. Okay. He sat naked in the road and began to unlace the rotting pieces of leather laces to his feet. Then he stood up, holding them in one hand.
Put them in the cart.
He stepped forward and placed the shoes on top of the blankets and stepped back. Standing there raw and naked, filthy, starving. Covering himself with his hand. He was already shivering.
Put the clothes in.
He bent and scooped up the rags in his arms and piled them on top of the shoes. He stood there holding himself. Dont do this, man.
You didnt mind doing it to us.
I'm begging you.
Papa, the boy said.
Come on. Listen to the kid.
You tried to kill us.
I'm starving, man. You'd have done the same.
You took everything.
Come on, man. I'll die.
I'm going to leave you the way you left us.
Come on. I'm begging you.
He pulled the cart back and swung it around and put the pistol on top and looked at the boy. Let's go, he said. And they set out along the road south with the boy crying and looking back at the nude and slatlike creature standing there in the road shivering and hugging himself. Oh Papa, he sobbed.
Stop it.
I cant stop it.
What do you think would have happened to us if we hadnt caught him? Just stop it.
I'm trying.

(Cormac McCarthy: The Road, pp. 215-217)

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where they white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

(Cormac McCarthy: The Road, p. 241)

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