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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

The Road - Cormac McCarthy There are 156 "okay" in the 307 pages of "The Road".
One hundred and fifty-six. I mean, it's a substantial number.
307 divided into 156 is 1.967.
Hence, the term "okay" appears each 1.967 pages in this book.

I know you will call me weird or simply very silly for counting how many "okay" you can find in this novel, but I was too curious to desist; thus, I counted them.
Please note that the 156 "okay" I found and reported are those included only in the dialogues here, not the ones popping up a few times in the narrator brief and usually brilliant descriptions of a barbarized US.

Now, if you consider that "okay" counts many effective synonyms like "good", "fine", "alright" or - to some extent - "correct", you begin to wonder why Cormac McCarthy was so monotonous in "The Road".

True, the worl..ehm the United States is a mess. Scores of innocent people got killed due to some unfortunate war and among those who survived many started to kill each other in order to survive.
True, life became a perilous, violent, hungry affair.
Not only human beings were caught in the destructive process but apparently all others forms of animal and vegetable life leaving no choice to scrap a living from tinned food, the occasional stray dog and - why not? - cannibalism.

Gangs of armed villains patrol the desert Interstates killing at will and barbecuing on toddlers. Nothing edible grows from the soil. The occasional shower of grey ashes doesn't help in improving the mood.

In this worst case scenario made true, a man and a kid get by.
The kid is the Son. The man is his Papa.
Isn't that biblical enough? Isn't that the perfect cast of characters of an end of the world dark fairytale?

Father and Son walk along the pot-holed, ash-full road pushing a shopping trolley carrying all their meager possessions: a broken toy, rags, tarpaulin, tinned peaches, tinned pears, tinned beans, a flask of water, some fuel in a can, a gun.
Yes, the man got a gun and he knows how to handle it. Sometimes he gives the gun to the kid. The Son learnt how to use the gun too.

The road leads to the sea or that's what the Papa keeps on telling to his Son. They have to reach the sea.
Then, things will start to get better. You must believe this.
Now that's nothing new. What we have here is just a very depressing version of the usual American Dream pulled upside down. Gun included.

Needless to say that the reason why Papa needs a gun is self-defense the worl..ehm the US being (scarcely) populated by the above mentioned human BBQ maniacs.
Father and Son are the good guys. They don't shoot for fun. They could never kill a stray dog for the sake of eating it. They walk. They talk.

Yes, they talk.
The problem is that together with human beings, pets, wild animals, fish, birds, crops, flowers and trees something else fell dead in the cataclism: language and its variations.

The Father, the Son and the few guys they meet on the road speak all in the same way. A 90 years old wayfarer says "okay" and "I dont know" just like a kid one tenth of his age does.

Dialogues between Papa and his son are dry, repetitive, monotonous always following the same pattern.
I think I understand what Mr McCarthy wanted to tell us with this poor choice of terms: beware of a de-humanized world, a world where basic needs win over synonims and the love for the spoken, written and read word.

Yes, this choice makes sense. But, hey, what we have here is a Father and his Son. These two don't have anyone else and almost anything else left in this world. They stick together and they obviously love each other although they are somehow incapable to show it.

And yet the kid is a sensitive one as his horror, fear and dismay for anything violent happening around him in that dilapidated apocalyptic world he marches on are always very clear.
How on Earth the Son could get this sensitiveness living in a dog-eat-dog society stricken by atrocities and with a Papa answering either "okay" or "I dont know" to all of his questions is a mistery this novel fails to explain.

Okay (oh no!), Father and Son are tired, hungry, disillusioned and merely trying to catch tinned goods from wrecked buildings escaping the villains who wish to broil them, but what's wrong with their relationship, the holiest of all the family bonds? Why these two speak to each other like a broken record?
Why Papa keeps the language so simple and basic with a kid being 9-10 years old? Shouldn't he try to teach him something or does he simply treat him like a moron?

Let's take this dialogue at page 105.
(McCarthy abhors quotation marks, commas and unnecessary apostrophes):

(...)
You think we're going to die, dont you?
I dont know.
We're not going to die.
Okay.
But you dont believe me.
I dont know.
Why do you think we're going to die?
I dont know.
Stop saying I dont know.
Okay.
Why do you think we're going to die.
We dont have anything to eat.
We'll find something.
Okay,
How long do you think people can go without food?
I dont know.
But how long do you think?
Maybe a few days.
And then what? You fall over dead?
Yes.
Well you dont. It takes a long time. We have water. That's the most important thing. You dont last very long without water.
Okay.
But you dont believe me.
I dont know.
(...)

Someone may say that this is the way common people speak and that McCarthy understood it alright, but I would disagree.
This is awful writing. Could anyone explain me in a convincing way why
"don't" which is already shorter for "do not" became "dont"?
No, seriously, I'm waiting for an answer!

If common people speak like McCarthy wrote here, well I'm sorry but we deserve an apocalypse to restart all over. Perhaps that's what "The Road" suggests, after all.
This is certainly an absorbing novel, but not a work of literature.