Nick Hornby hits 'The Road'
- Julie Ann Ensomo () - October 9, 2011 - 12:00am


MANILA, Philippines - Julie Ann Ensomo, 26, of Bacoor, Cavite has been featured in the “My Favorite Book” contest before. She’s soon leaving for Singapore “to find a high-paying job as a graphic designer” which will hopefully encourage her “to have a new 2x2 ID picture taken.”

I usually buy books which I’ve read halfway through inside a bookstore or which have a 70-percent discount. The former is out of guilt and fear — bookstore employees including security guards snooping around my area, their intimidating presence contributing to my purchasing decision — and the latter is out of gluttony. Anything on sale is always better, a mantra I’ve always believed in. Occasionally though, I seek something that is widely recommended by a group of strangers or in a forum I usually visit online — where trusted authors share their opinions — in this case, it was Nick Hornby who compelled me to buy Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I saw two versions of the book cover. One was simply done in black; the other had a weary, bearded picture of Viggo Mortensen with a tiny arm draped over his shoulder. I opted for the simple black cover, as I didn’t want to confuse The Road with the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, which had an equally harassed Aragorn on its cover.

Now, there’s a sub-category of literature I’ll call “miserable-themed books.” Life is already miserable, why would I want to read about it? But there was something about Hornby’s article about The Road that made me want to read it so badly; I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to live a fruitful life without satisfying my literary curiosity. I was dying to read it in silence, alone in my room.

Nick Horny mentioned: “Sometimes they find shriveled heads, or the remains of a baby on a barbecue.” I’ve watched too many gory and violent films, I can probably slurp spaghetti while watching an autopsy; but “the remains of a baby on a barbecue”? Was this a holocaust-inspired book? Would there be a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler in it? A crossover from the Lord of The Flies, maybe? I had never heard of such a thing. I just had to read it.

The first few pages quickly prepared me for its gloomy tone: the blinding light bulb inside my green-colored wall room kept getting dimmer and dimmer as I continued numbly with the pages. And it didn’t help that I was reading in the middle of the night — the deep silence and the dark aura made the story more believable and saddening.

I already knew the premise of the novel from Hornby’s book review: a father and a son set out on a journey in a post-apocalyptic world. Forever traveling and contemplating seem to be the main activities of the characters. Eating is a rare privilege, as well as having fresh clothes, a safe place to stay and freedom. Cannibalism is rampant and there are creatures who tend to round up captives and throw them in a dingy, small room filled with living, naked, frightened humans, all ready to be picked out and sautéed or fried or baked, whatever their captors fancy.

As casual as I wanted that last bit to sound, I still shiver a little just thinking about it. Imagine finding a roomful of dirty, scared human beings begging you to help them and when you’ve realized the situation they are in and you might be in next, you run as fast as you can, dragging your son away to hide from the monsters that have imprisoned those people. I started crying when I finished that scene and as much as I wanted to burn the book, I felt an obligation to finish it. Damn Nick Hornby and his compelling book reviews.

I finally came upon the dreaded barbecued infant scene and it was as harrowing as Nick Hornby made it sound. Apparently there’s a group of people traveling together and one of them is a pregnant woman. Or probably pregnant female heathen, I’m not sure, but when that group leaves, the father and the son see the remains of a headless baby burning on a stick. It wasn’t directly stated where the baby came from but the implications are sickening enough for the boy to look away and for his father to apologize for a situation he had no involvement in. I cannot remember if I started weeping again while reading that particularly disturbing scene or if I just stared dumbly at an empty space on my wall, imagining the whole scene in its entirety.

I already had an inkling of the ending but I would not have expected it to be that wretched and heartbreaking. My heart literally ached when I read the final scene. It was like being present at the saddest funeral of a very close family member. You want nothing to do with it but you need to attend it. The father wheezes and coughs through the night and when he already knows that he can’t go any further and that he will be leaving his son alone, it’s the saddest, most agonizing, mentally exhausting conversation I have ever read in my life. I thought I’d already dried up my tear ducts out but I could barely read the last dialogue between father and son, because the tears had blurred my vision and my snot was obscuring my breathing. I never realized one could become almost dehydrated from crying gallons of tears but I never stopped crying, even after finishing the book. I stayed awake until I heard our maid cooking an early breakfast. I looked at the clock and, damn it, it was already 5:30 a.m. Why did I even think of reading or even buying this book — am I masochist or what? This is all Nick Hornby’s fault, I swear.

The burnt, headless infant and the human-eating livelihood project were only a few of the most devastating scenes in The Road. This book is clearly not recommended for depressive, suicidal types. I bet even Mary Poppins would kill herself after reading this book.

Even now, when I see the novel, I can’t help but recall the awful scenarios that Cormac McCarthy created and embedded in my mind. I always reread a favorite book, especially when I have nothing better to read but for this one, I think I’ll pass; once is enough. Just seeing the cover makes me depressed and I think I’ll just read it again when I need a reminder of how blessed and fortunate I am.

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