Reading Lewis Lapham’s characteristically overwrought, brilliant preamble to the new issue of LQ, I caught the scent of a quote that had slain me a few years back. Handrolled Clute archive + local search to the rescue. (This is from John Clute’s disappeared review of The Road, which used to live on SciFi.com and now lives on my harddrive, awaiting resurrection.)
The central riddle of The Road is God. The landscape itself will be familiar to readers of stories about America After the Rain, the kind of story that has been told about America since The Scarlet Plague (1915) by Jack London, or earlier. Nor will there be any surprises in discovering the specific nature of the holocaust that has doomed the world this time round, several years before the tale itself begins: so familiar is the iconography of nuclear winter that Cormac McCarthy doesn’t even need to say Bomb.
Any secular reading of The Road would tend to suggest that McCarthy’s intention is clear: to write an end-of-the-world story with no escape hatch: no blade of grass. There is no riddle here.
But the boy radiates light.
This may not, in fact, be much of a riddle for many Americans, who more than readers like myself are likely to recognize biblical cadences and concordances in an American text, whether or not it’s explicitly apocalyptic, whether or not it’s explicitly stripped to that bare ground in which the essence of God may be sounded. This linguistic and typological ground bass is far less commonly found in European or English novels: but when the accelerator is floored in an American book, you can generally smell Bible.