We’re on a road to nowhere
January 13, 2010
So, I finally got around to reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy? It seemed to have wowed the critics when it was published, which is an impressive feat for a book in which roughly one out of every four words is the word gray. Nearly as common is the word some, employed frequently in the place of an indefinite article to create similes of a bewitchingly deliberate imprecision? We get two on the very first page, beginning with:
Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.
Yeah, like some cold glaucoma! (Are there hot glaucomas?) And then:
Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast.
Oh, some granitic beast. I know there are many different types of granitic beast? But the exact kind of granitic beast I am talking about is not important right now!
The boy does not escape being the object of similar tropes:
His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old world thespian.
Some old world thespian? Which one? David Garrick? Sir Henry Irving? Whatever!
Sometimes the man has dreams, and then he wakes up:
Lying there in the dark with the uncanny taste of a peach from some phantom orchard fading in his mouth.
I like this some very much. It is almost as if the writer knows that to write a phantom orchard would just sound silly, but the magic word some lends it that extra gravitas. But hang on — wouldn’t phantoms, rather than peaches, properly be the fruit of a phantom orchard? Just saying!
Often the man and boy come across dead bodies:
They were discalced to a man like pilgrims of some common order for all their shoes were long since stolen.
Um, right! This some is quite dismissive, not only of the pilgrims’ “common order” but arguably of the entire laboured simile itself. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part?
Here the man looks at his tarpaulin, under which the boy is sheltering:
Sited there in the darkness the frail blue shape of it looked like the pitch of some last venture at the edge of the world.
Remember, there are many things you could do as a last venture at the edge of the world. Sitting under a blue tarpaulin is just one of them!
He trudged out through the drifts leaving the boy to sleep under the tree like some hibernating animal.
So here the boy is like a squirrel, or a bat? Or is he more like a massive and ferocious black bear? It’s impossible to tell, and the writer, lethargically wielding his some, doesn’t care! But wait, is “under the tree” really a good place for an animal to hibernate? Any predator could just come along and eat him! Unless what the writer really means here is that the boy is sleeping under the tree in the sense of being completely buried in the earth, among the roots? That’s a better hibernating strategy, at least. But then how is he breathing?
O look, more dead bodies!
Like victims of some ghastly envacuuming.
You probably don’t want to know exactly which of the many fearful kinds of ghastly envacuuming with which we are all so horribly familiar the writer is talking about here, and so by refusing to tell us, he is arguably performing a great mercy on our rain-streaked faces. (I believe that ghastly envacuuming might be the more intense and undesirable cousin of unpleasant buffeting?)
The faintly lit hatchway lay in the dark of the yard like a grave yawning at judgment day in some old apocalyptic painting.
This sentence is clever, because if you just said that the hatchway looked like a grave yawning at judgment day, that would be simply too horror-cheesy, but if you say it’s like that exact same shit but in some painting that is old, the simile is instantly elevated to the level of literary art.
At any rate, by this point in the book, I knew precisely how that grave felt, since I too was yawning at judgment day?