There is a Shape to The Road

A road is a rich visual metaphor, a path, a sense of adventure, leading you someplace, openness… but in the case of Cormac McCarthy’s book, it is also one dark view of the future of our quite/unquote civilization. The tale is usually described as grim. post-apocalyptic– and the setting most certainly is, with the cannibalism, horrific conditions (which come off more adventurous, even partly comical in the Mad Max movies). When I first read the book, I had a bit of a different take away— it was a powerful love story of what a father could instill in his son.

Kurt Vonnegut so playfully yet insightfully teaches us, with the power of his voice and the technology of… a chalk board, the ideas of a story having a shape, that it is the dramatic ups and downs the hills and valleys what pulls us along. I’ve asked and speculated if there were stories that never reach that final upper positive ending, or do not spend as much time criss-crossing the midpoint.

I think The Road may be one that pretty much warbles around about as low on the negative fortune as one can manage.


(That is my own photo of one of many lonely desolate highways in Nevada… that I adore driving).

Things are bad in the beginning, without saying explicitly when, we are in a future time, but not too far in the future, when war / greed etc have rendered everything in this world smoldering ruins. The father we know is sick. Winter is coming. The father’s wife is a memory. This is much lower than Cinderella started. The one thing he can hold onto is making sure his son has a chance at a better existence, a less miserable one. So they know they cannot stay with the coming dead of winter, that a warmer place at least has a slightly better chance for him to get to a place where he might have a chance (we know what the father’s future is from the beginning).

The movie version is a very close adaptation of the book, with maybe one of the most gruesome scenes just made slightly less gruesome, but visually makes the ominous real

Any bits of upturn are relatively small in amplitude, finding the hidden food supplies, maybe one person that cannot mis-trust, but how can one even put this much off the bottom of the graph? For the father the rise does not happem, in fact his graph terminates. One might say the relief is an upturn? Debatable. And so I opted to split the graph at the end. We do not know what happens to the boy even to speculate that his graph would rise, but there is at least the potential set for him to “find the fire” and be with “the good guys”. So what propels this story along is not the ups and down it takes, but the reader’s desire/expectation for the fortune to be truly good and not “less bad”.

Can there be positive hopes in the grimmest of settings? Why not, that has to be one of our best human attributes.

I am really curious for other odd story shapes.


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