I don’t know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
by Cormac McCarthy
Over the last few years I’ve become deeply interested in the work of Cormac McCarthy. Like many readers the first book of McCarthy’s I read was The Road. Paradoxically, my walk through the book’s apocalyptic, ash-strewn landscape brought me solace at a time when I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere else.
I was thirty-two and hanging on by a very thin thread. The mother of my two adopted boys and I were breaking up and, as usual, I was doing a pretty terrible job of ending it. My health was terrible, the novel I was working on felt like it was dead in the water, and of course I was broke. It was November. I spent my weekends looking for an apartment.
The break-up was hard on everybody. The older of my two boys was seven and going through a phase where he was afraid of the dark. At night he would ask me to come into his room and hang out with him until he fell asleep. Grateful for the silence and escape I obliged him over the next few weeks. His room was invariably messy, and I would lie there in the midst of the disaster of clothes and toys, turn the nightlight on low, and pull out the copy of The Road I was reading. It became the best time of the day for me. As I read and my son tried to fall asleep I would imagine that him and I were relying on each other in the waste land of everything going wrong around us, just as the boy and his father did in McCarthy’s book, him counting on me against the darkness, and me relying on him for that precious time each day, and for the promise of a future I couldn’t believe in on my own. I let the rest of the world collapse around us. There was a sense of security on those evenings, a feeling I can still bring back into focus and hold. Where your heart is, there too shall be your treasure. By the end of December I had moved out and had the boys on weekends.
In the novel the boy and his father are always talking about carrying the fire. Not having been exposed to any of McCarthy’s other work I thought he was maybe using fire as a metaphor for the will to survive, or the last bit of goodness on the broken earth they were walking. It wasn’t until I started exploring the rest of McCarthy’s books that I began to see that the fire runs through everything he does like Ariadne’s thread, and it wasn’t until I read his masterpiece, Blood Meridian, that I came to understand what the fire was and what it could mean for me.
(To be continued in the next blog entry.)