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.
In January I got a very polite and pleasant e-mail
from a Goodreads group I am in. I must admit I have not been very active in this group, so much for social in social reading.
The e-mail cordially invited me to join in on a challenge, where a fellow reader (whom I do not know) makes a choice for me with regards to what to read in February, and in exchange I do the same for another reader. Normally I am skeptical when it comes to granting others a say in this matter, but this time around I have some time on my hand and dire in need of some distraction from job hunting. And an upside is also that whoever got me would have to limit themselves to my to-read shelf, so complete darkness I not in am.
So this February I am reading Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and, if I have time – which I hope and anticipate – my backup choice “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.
So far tTTW is interesting, although somewhat confusing in the beginning, because there – duh – is a lot of shifting in time and space, ages of characters and keeping score of what person knows how much of the collected whole in the given section. But that is somehow also what is interesting for me as a reader. My passage through the book is linear, and so I know both more and less than the characters at certain parts of the book. However, I feel like Niffenegger could play more with this point. There is something irksome about narration that almost certainly stands in itself only to guide or inform the reader where it is not needed – especially if you want to keep the reader a little bit confused or in the dark. The possibility of the reader veering off in some other direction or ‘misinterpreting’ is something I wish were tapped into more often.
Henry has a genetic disorder which causes him to travel through time when triggered. And before you completely shut down and discard the idea, think about the possibility of metaphor in that statement. Ok, moving on: So, Clare is his past, present and future. Along the book we are introduced to interchanging narration from the two. Sometimes one scene experienced from both sides, sometimes only the one. I noticed the first meetings, which for both of them was not the others’ first meeting. Henry first meets Clare when she is six years old. The meeting, which happens in a meadow by Clare’s house, but in a blind spot where prying eyes conveniently do not belong, offers a very interesting thematic. Henry – who in this scenario is in his thirties – has already spent a great deal of time with Clare, and the two, as the narration states, are lovers and share a history together. But there, in front of him, is the six-year-old version of his love, his wife and soul mate. And in front of her is an older man, stark naked – because he cannot transport anything with him through time (duh!) – and most important, a stranger. There is inadvertently something of a Lolita-vibe going on, but one that is not acted out on, and this is also pacified in the narration which tells you the underlying tension is ok. They (the man and the child) are somewhere in the future destined to be together.
On the other side of the table, Henry’s first encounter with Clare is at age 28 and she is 20. So the age difference is significantly different and allows for no discrepancy or raised eyebrows with regards to social order. She introduces herself to Henry the librarian, age 28, who has no recollection or stored memories of their previous meetings since it has not yet happened for him, and asks him to join her for dinner. Here she explains to him that in her time – which is completely linear – they have already had many encounters, where he has taken on the role of tutor and friend, teaching her French and Math, and she has quite surely grown into a deep passion for him. One that – up to where I am in the story – the narration assures that she, in her tender age, is not quite sure how to explain or what it means, or how to act upon. These encounters pose the question: the chicken or the egg? Does he go to meet her because she invites him to dinner and tells him these things, or has she met him at age six to find him at age 20 to ask to dinner and tell him about the previous meetings?
Anyway, I have not come that far in to the story and although there are some linguistic/narrative ‘kinks’ that irk me I do look forward to reading on. And then turn onto McCormack’s road.