Post apocalyptic fiction isn’t for everyone. Cormac’s approach is a blend of horror, Old Testament death by fire and a strange lyrical beauty rising from this pilgrimage to some sort of possible resurrection. The atmosphere has a science fiction like quality, where the language rises into a kind of prophetic beauty and demands attention as to point of the whole effort of survival.
In truth since World War II and the nuclear bombs in Japan, the world has lived under the dark shadow of nuclear incineration; our psyches, regardless of conscious awareness, I believe have been paying a price of sufferance under this nightmarish possibility. With the grinding bleakness of current war politics, terrorism and seemingly hopeless and feckless political leadership to solve international violence, we are feeling the tug toward the apocalyptic scenarios embedded in our ancient sacred literature as well as featured relentlessly in popular horror and sci-fi genres.
Cormac McCarthy is tapping into this unconscious sea of worry and pushing the literary “take” to its incinerated Biblical limits (think too of this as another repeat of medieval crusade eras against Islam and their dark implications for Western survival). This novel was beautifully and horribly wrought and McCarthy took a big chance here. This effort could have come crashing down around his finely tuned ears, but the fact of the novel’s success critically (even apart from Oprah’s support) speaks the seriousness of our society’s worry about the very real possibility of nuclear and chemical eradication of Western civilization.
At the end McCarthy seems to suggest the child is a new chosen avatar of sorts, but given the extreme devastation…we current readers have no place in that future. We die with the father, a victim of the world weariness and failure of the previous civilization’s exhaustion. Clearly the message is difficult to absorb but McCarthy drove the literary nail straight into the neurotic spirit of our times.