The Magazine

Life After Death

Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalypse Western.

Feb 5, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 20 • By SHAWN MACOMBER
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In order to maintain the boy's will to live, the father must hold to some level of purity and the boy must occasionally compromise and err on the side of survival. It's a perfectly rendered symbiotic relationship. "This is what the good guys do," the father tells the boy. "They keep trying. They don't give up." In seeking to convince the boy of this, he preserves his own soul; and by allowing himself to be convinced, the boy survives.

Of course, to speak such words is not to stave off despair completely. "If only my heart were stone," he laments one night as he watches his son suffer. But it is not. And that is why, despite its constant peripheral horrors, The Road is a bleak yet ultimately inspiring tale relaying unmistakable hope for human beings, even if McCarthy's work increasingly shows precious little of the same for humanity.

"People don't feel safe no more," Lacey Rawlins, Cole's compatriot in All the Pretty Horses, sighs as the boys naively set off to seek a land where rugged individualism still exists. "We're like the Comanches was two hundred years ago. We don't know what's going to show up here come daylight."

Considering where McCarthy's literary journey has taken him, and his creations over the last decade, it seems safe to say those two boys the author once dreamed up didn't know the half of it. But the heat, and the heat of the blood, that ran them remains very much the same.

Shawn Macomber is a Phillips Foundation fellow.