Monday, April 16, 2007

The Road to Hell

Cormac McCarthy has won the Pulitzer for his novel The Road.

I read The Road last year during my year of reading dangerously, and I have to say it's a powerful story. And scary. God almighty is it scary. There were times when I just had to put the book down and walk away, and I dreaded going back to it. Friends, that doesn't happen to me. I've never had a book affect me that way. I read The Shining when I was a kid and it didn't scare me this bad.

That said, the ending of The Road leaves a lot to be desired. It is horrible, tragic, as everything you and the narrator have feared since the first pages of the book finally comes to pass. And then - Boioioioing! it all gets fixed, quick and neat as that. Deus ex machina - God out of a machine - a wanton violation of the prime directive of fiction writing. He wrote himself into a corner of horror from which there was no reasonable escape, so he escaped unreasonably.

Big sigh.

Even so, everything up to that point is definitely worth the read. I nominated this book for the Nebula and it probably deserves to win that, too. Cormac McCarthy isn't the first author to find himself at the end of his book with basically nowhere else to go and 20 more pages to write. In fact, of the 30 or so novels I read during my year of reading dangerously, I'd say all but one or two suffered the same or similar lame and/or hurried cop out in the last pages. It's an unfortunate fact of reading and something that distinguishes the really good writers from the really great ones.


mckennal said...

Deus ex machina? I'm not sure I agree. These characters suffer a lot beforehand that makes the deus ex machina practically invalid. But I find McCarthy's ending very similar to a similar work, William Golding's _Lord of the Flies_, in which the children are "rescued" at the end. But what kind of rescue is it? They surely haven't been rescued from themselves. And this boy isn't exactly saved at the end of _The Road_.

Jeff said...

Deus ex machina doesn't imply that everything is fixed. It means that the plot has reached a point where it seemingly cannot move ahead, and rather than solve it, the author has some act of God occur - the boys in LotF are plucked off the island, or the boy in The Road comes across the first person who isn't planning to eat him at the moment of his greatest vulnerability - without the least bit of foreshadowing that they were being followed by someone who wanted to help them.