Ok, so in the end I was not at all into The Time Traveler’s Wife, it slowly started to rub me the wrong way. And about 150 pp. in, there was a scene worthy of 50SoG, and it was so toe cringing that I stopped investing in the narration completely. A bust for me.
So then I started on McCarthy.
As I was reading this apocalyptic novel The Road, my mind occasionally wandered off to AMC’s TV-series The Walking Dead. From the theme over imagery to language, the similarities were abundant. Although in The Walking Dead the world is overrun with zombies in never-ending waves, and The Road has just moved human life to a postapocalyptic state without the fantastical bonus, they share an underlining fear that goes to the core of the human condition and both serve as takes of just how far our imagination can take us when facing never-before tried situations. How truly horrific the end of days can or could be. What will become of humanity, love thy neighbor, gender equality, the PC-attitude.
The plot in The Road is fairly straight forward and that is not a criticism. The highlight of the novel is not in the plot. The world as a postmodern, social-media frenzied place run on the capitalists’ logic of growth and world diplomacy has ended. No need to embellish the pages with fast-paced action sequences and heroism. The quiet does well in foreboding the dangers up ahead. McCarthy employs a technique of undernarrating the events. We know nothing of why the world is reduced to ash, so we can only imagine. We are not told specifics about either characters, there is no great build-up. One part cynicism, one part filial affection, and a dash of eerie apathy. Add father and son walking on dusty roads surrounded by charred forests, covered in dust and pushing a cart filled with their last possessions and you have yourself a shitty situation. As I am reading it, I actually get a physical reaction and feel my mind starting to work the same way I do when watching scenes of The Walking Dead. A bit nervous of the scenes up ahead, the style does nothing to forewarn me. Even though I am only 50 pages in I am aware that McCarthy would not hesitate to kill off one or both of the main characters right there and then. Come to think of it, I think that would actually be an interesting development for the novel and narrator.
However, I do have my reservations about the genre or, should I say, to some pre-specified components of the genre. Mostly, these types of books/shows etc. seldom have the balls or ingenuity to leave the past or present behind to create something completely other, but instead use already lived or taught experience. It plays with the writer, viewer’s and/or reader’s knowledge of the world, and how we perceive or understand a human response. And so the imagery is very much embedded with the (nostalgic) brutality of traditional historical terror-infested reigns of emperor’s, kings, and dictators that have walked this earth. As such there is no room with the writer for a belief that maybe a couple of thousand – or hundred, hell, even ten – years of growing and change would have any effect on the life after the next big bang. We are predestined to regress into cave mentality and brutal slaughtering as a go-to, know-no-better alternative. It irks me that they continuously choose this easy way out. We already know that a lot of people will die. Some for ideological reasons, some because of their caring instincts which has no place in this setting (mostly women), some because they (mostly men) are rat bastards. And those who live develop into very stereotypical characters and take to extreme hierarchical structures that shut out the last 300 years of Enlightenment critical thought. There is a God, we have failed, are sinners, and survival of the fittest means those who shed evolution and go down to the nitty-gritty – not a single pause to question that which seems too obviously answered with reckless violence.
On that point the two however differ in strategy: Where TWD is visual in its core, it creates very in-your-face sequences to show the violence up close, TR uses a lot of subtle hints and uses the quiet, eerie mood to convey the dehumanizing development. Both work their way though like a sort of platform game – find food, shelter, medicine, avoid as best possible danger, search and destroy threats if necessary – bonus rounds expected when the heroes find hidden stash or a untampered supply room. I am tempted to be more inclined towards the latter – maybe because there is more of a challenge for my mind. As McCarthy operates on the very minimal when it comes to the build-up I am not bound by so many presets and can ask myself the question: How freely will I let my imagination run, to think up possibilities for the meltdown, the future, the middle, the characters? And in that sense, I can also test my own theories of how, what, and why the characters are what they are. As he only paints a scene of very few days and settings, I can use that little snippet and create a completely different world. It would be very hard to do so in the universe of The Walking Dead as the information of the characters in this sequential narrative form is always changing and layered. All the fan fiction in the world would contest me and prove the possibility of a reader taking control of a narrative such as TWD, but in the sense that there are hardcoded facts that would run counter to this action, TR offers me more of a say without tampering with the ‘truth’ (to be read in a very light manner, mind you!). I don’t have to read/write against the canon, but can create possible otherworlds to run alongside McCarthy.
With regards to the language in The Road I alternated between disappointed and elated. There were a lot of annoying metaphors which threw me off and in some sections the religious emphasis was too much for my taste. But there is no denying that McCarthy has a way with words that relays a certain underlying strange emotional current in the novel that sits longer with the reader. I can’t explain it, but just how annoyed I was at the religious rhetoric, as appreciative am I of the reaction it caused. So for those who contemplate The Road I would recommend reading it and discarding the temporary annoyance this poses. The long-term effects are much more pleasing.