Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Road - Cormac McCarthy


2006; 287 pages. Genre : Contemporary Literature. Awards : 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Fiction); Oprah's Book Club selection for April 2007. Soon to come out as a movie, starring LOTR's Aragorn. Overall Rating : B+.
.
"He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone."
.
In a post-apocalytpic world (most likely done in by a hit from a comet), a dying father and his son struggle just to survive another day. Ash is everywhere; all plant life is dead, as are most animals; the weather is unchanging : cold, rainy, and blowing ash; and the few remaining humans scrounge desperately for whatever scraps of food might still be found.
.
What's To Like...
The father and son are two great character studies. The former remembers "the world before", but refrains from telling the son about it, for fear of depressng him about their current lot. Ironically, the son (who apparently was born right around the time of "the event") has a lot more hope and humanity within him than the dad. Yet the father's stoniness is driven by his love for the son, and his resolve for the boy to somehow survive.
.
Then there's the concept of Character Development, something almost unheard of in stories anymore. The father gradually succeeds in instilling in his son the skills and the mindset to cope with the bleak world, and in the end, their roles are almost reversed.
.
The "e.e. cummings" literary style takes some getting used to, and some of the technical details are hard to believe - such as a dog somehow managing to survive for 10 years or so without anyone eating him. Also, if you're not in the habit of watching The History Channel's "end of the world" shows, you may find some of the horrors of this foodless world repulsive. Such as the "shish-ka-baby" scene.
.
"Mankind is only about three missed-meals away from degenerating into savagery."
Cormac McCarthy is 75 years old, and this book is dedicated to his 8-year-old son. The Road seems to me to be a message to that son from a father who recognizes he won't be around for most of his kid's life. The fact that McCarthy weaves that message into an end-of-the-world setting and writes it in a unique style makes this book worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. The book offers much to think about in this world where most of us would starve in a couple days if the supermarkets and Circle-K's disappeared. But in the end, you will enjoy The Road more if you focus on the people, and not the post-apoc events.

7 comments:

Amanda said...

I tried to read this book in January last year. I read the first 30 pages or so really quickly, and thought I found it fascinating, but then Jason mentioned McCarthy's tendency to have a lot of gratuitous violence. I waited for a few weeks until I could talk to my sister-in-law, who recommended it to me, and find out if there was anything in there that would make me sorry I'd read it. She assured me this is one of his tamer books, but by the time I talked to her, I'd lost all interest. I gathered that it was the formatting (cutting off every couple paragraphs in the middle of scenes for no apparent reason) which kept me reading. It was brilliant marketing. But I also realized nothing at all happened in that first 30 pages (and at that point, no character development either). I never picked the book back up.

hamilcar barca said...

the entire book is bleak of course, but there are only 2 or 3 really gruesome scenes, and they are quite short. they were riveting enough to stun my carpool partner. nevertheless, he really liked this book, no doubt in a large part because he has three sons.

the character development is very gradual, maybe even non-existent in the first half of the book.

and i can see how the "literary minimalism" might be off-putting to writers. but i've always viewed commas, apostrophes, and sentence structure as an art form, not rules. ;-)

Amanda said...

It wasn't so much off-putting as once I stopped reading, I never felt like going back. The structure of the book kept me going, and fast, while I was reading, but after I had a few weeks to clear my head, I felt like it was a more of a gimmick.

Lula O said...

I've seen this in the stores for months, having no idea what it was about, other than the guy on the cover looked alot like (super hot) Viggo Mortensen. I'm happy it really is him and because of your review I'm looking forward to the book. It sounds interesting.

Christopher said...

You should try to pick it back up. It takes a lot of getting used to (and it does every time I pick up one of his books) but by the end, it's just so well written that you can't help being in awe of it.

The truncated style is done pretty consciously here. If you read Blood Meridian, you'll see that he can write some pretty long and complex sentences, though No Country for Old Men is even shorter and "e. e. cummings"-like than this one. All in all, I think this one is the best.

Christopher said...

Also, that is Viggo Mortensen. He's in the movie.

Amanda said...

It didn't really take me any time to get used to it while I was actually reading it, and it was really hard to put down, but while it was away, I didn't itch to pick it back up, and then I realized I didn't want to anymore. It bored me. Hearing there was a shish-ka-baby scene probably didn't help, either. I don't tend to like modern adult fiction and literature.