America is a barren landscape of smoldering ashes, devoid of life except for those people still struggling to scratch out some type of existence. Amidst the destruction, a father and his young son walk, always toward the coast, but with no real understanding that circumstances will improve once they arrive. Still they persevere, and their relationship comes to represent goodness in a world that is utterly devastated.
Does anyone need me to repeat this 80 times? No? You can understand it after reading it once? What a quaint idea. Oh, and by the way, you’re all going to die some day. There.
I could leave it at that and skate by free. But then you'd never know the deeper, darker, more troubling reasons for my avoidance of "The Road". So maybe it's time I stopped running and face the muzak.
See, my name is EnriqueFreeque, and I'm a snobaholic.
I refused reading "The Road" because...because...just say it, Dude, this is the first step in your recovery by admitting your powerlessness over snobbishness...because Oprah Winfrey read it and loved it. Loved it so much, in fact, she somehow persuaded its hermitic, up-until-then-monosyllabic responding author to actually talk about it, "The Road" -- on TV of all places! -- and did so, as far as I can tell, without holding a gun to his head.
'Great!' went my elitist, condescending line of arrogant (and what in hindsight was, erroneous) reasoning, 'Cormac McCarthy's a bestseller now (he's on Oprah! you can buy his books at Costco and Sams Club! woohoo! housewives everywhere love him! yippee!') -- ergo, the way I saw it, he'd become a sellout, and seeing that damn "Book Oprah Club" sticker on the cover of his book everytime I stocked up on something like several years worth of toilet paper and bottled water made me wanna puke! Where were all these Oprah-ites and housewives, after all, supporting Cormac back in '85 when "Blood Meridian" -- a better book -- came out; back in those dirt poor good 'ol days when McCarthy routinely refused $1,500 university speaking engagements even though he was broke and could barely afford living in a motel room? Never mind I'd never heard of Cormac back in '85 (I was sixteen and obsessing over "Dune"), I was still pissed! I was indignant!
Was I a numbskull? Hell yes.
Because "The Road" (don't know how else to put it) rocks! You already know what it's about. Let me just add "The Road's" so gorgeously grim the Grim Reaper seems like a stand-up comic in comparison. It's got enough dried out corpses and roving bands of raving craving cannibals who'd like to eat your children raw to delight the hardest of hardcore "Dawn of the Dead" fanatics...and yet it has a heart too, compassion, albeit an almost flatlining heartbeat of humanity demonstrated by the unwavering love the father gives to his young son, born into this ruined world, day after hopeless, beyond depressing day on the road; an unimaginably unforgiving, merciless road which originates in Hell and terminates in Hell, with mostly Hell inbetween.
But what a marvelous Heavenly read.
I forgot. It’s Cormac McCarthy. A man so inspired by the love for his own son that he penned this enormous tribute to the love between parents and their children. His brevity, language and imagery all left me far from depressed. Instead, I was filled with hope as I turned each page.
Admittedly, I had to get used to the style of this book. There’s no punctuation (not even an apostrophe in contractions), no quotation marks or attributions for dialogue, and many of the sentences lacked the traditional subject and predicate parts. Like how the norms of our society dissipated in this story, so did the grammar rules. After several pages, I agreed with McCarthy’s style. Who needs commas and “said” and even people’s names when you’re dealing with near-fatal circumstances and a constant state of fear? You don’t need any of it. You just need hope.
And hope was aplenty between this father and son. Their spirit kept them alive just as much as their foraging skills. Even when you’re freezing or scrounging seeds, love brings you hope, and hope can keep you alive.
The Road is a book I will never forget. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important books I will ever read. I encourage all of us to take a day or two and read this inspiring tale of how, against all odds, love and hope always prevail.
Yes, I know it was an Oprah's Book Club selection; yes, I know it won the Pulitzer Prize; yes, I know it has at least a 4-star rating on most every book site around. I still have to say that I don't believe this is a particularly good work -- I'd even go so far as to say, having read several already, that I'm not sure it deserved the Pulitzer.
The one thing I'll agree with from various assessments is that this book has moments of great beauty, of very well-written prose. The problem, as I've noted before in regards to authors like Dave Eggers, is that the style is in service of a plot that is seriously lacking in a number of ways -- not the least of which is that, over 287 pages, almost nothing happens.
I suppose that's to be expected from a bleek, godless world where everyone you meet is likely to want to kill you, eat you, or both. But if this is so, then the ending revelation is not a brilliant touch meant to reinvest hope in a hopeless situation, but rather a deus ex machina that is so contrived as to be laughable.
Character development is painfully sparse, and the dialogue is so repetitive and droning that it's hard to get any real feel for the boy or the man; it feels like they're reading from a badly-written script, not attempting to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. Not to mention that what little snippets of backstory we get, from flashbacks and short dream-like passages, go as unexplained as almost any other seemingly essential background information. Which leaves us with two flat, uninteresting characters plodding through a painful, desolate wasteland, doing very little and, occasionally, getting extraordinarily lucky.
Some will try to explain away the lack of depth in the plot and characterization as a reflection on our hopeless, postmodern times; but I'm here, I've read this and other great postmodern texts, and I have to confess that I just don't get the hype about this one. My suggestion isn't worth very much, but it's to skip this one.
'This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a whimper'
Incredibly, this is still a book of great beauty and compassion; but a book to make you weep.
Along the way they must avoid marauders and lawless bands that prey along the road for loot and food. Scavengers themselves, they must hunt for sustenance, clothing and warmth. Trying to stay safe, but realizing their chances are very slim. The father, knowing his time left is short, is grappling with the question of what to do about his son. For now they follow the road.
Cormac McCarthy has written this post-apocalyptic story in minimalist style, his sparse yet rich prose lingers in the mind, I know this is a book I will long be thinking of. Bleak yet hopeful, for me an extremely rich reading experience.
While it may rival Nevil Chute's "On The Beach" for conveying a mood of utter despair, there are moments of lightness to be found; the father occasionally recalls happy memories from times before the strike, though he berates himself for doing so, and the resolution of the book is heartening. Similarly, although the nightmarish hellscape the pair travel through would appear to be devoid of any beauty, McCarthy still achieves a sad kind of poetic description. And the relationship between the father and son can be, at times, heart-wrenching. By far the best line of the book is when they finally arrive at the ocean, and as they stare at it, the father says,
"I'm sorry it's not blue."
Not like that, of course, since The Road doesn't use quotation marks, which was one of two things that irked me. The other was that it got somewhat repetitive after a while; McCarthy probably could have cut 100 pages from this and had the same effect. But then, who am I to tell a Pulitzer-winner how to write?
Survival skills are paramount. Bands of robbers roam the land, looting and killing. Survivors often resort to cannibalism. The contents of homes and stores have usually been ransacked by travellers and bandits. Yet the man and boy explore every building they come across. Occasionally they find something: blankets, clothes, or food. At the same time, MacCarthy's describes in great detail these once-fashionable houses, in a way that made me question why we place so much importance on our homes and other material possessions.
The man's deep love for the boy permeates every sentence in this book. The emotional intensity is evident both in their will to live and in the ways they care for one another. MacCarthy manages to convey this deep feeling through the most basic dialogue, as in this example when they have just come across a bountiful store of food:
Go ahead, he said. Don't let it get cold.
What do I eat first?
Whatever you like.
Is this coffee?
Yes. Here. You put the butter on your biscuits. Like this.
Do you think we should thank the people?
The people who gave us all this.
Well. Yes, I guess we could do that.
The most haunting aspect of this book was the boy's mother's death. She apparently committed suicide when it became evident the world as she knew it would be destroyed. She preferred to end her life; the man chose to remain with his son and try to survive. When considering what path I would choose, I realized how difficult this decision could be. There really is no correct answer.
This is a beautifully-written book that will remain with me for a very long time.
It's also pretentious, lugubrious in its self-importance, weighed down with preposterous threadbare mysticism, anemic with lack of detail, hazy in its descriptions, complicit with ill-informed apocalyptic cults, evasive and coy in its apparent environmentalism, lazy in its structure, sleazy in its exploitation of the trope of the helpless boy, unrepentant in its machismo, misguided in its literary precedents, ridiculous in its proximity to Dungeons and Dragons, and really nauseating in its desire for Hollywood.
If you want a post-apocalyptic novel, read Arno Schmidt's "Dark Mirrors" in the collection "Nobodaddy's Children." It is so much better that you'll be embarrassed you even read McCarthy.
We never know what caused the disaster, just as we never know the characters names or the precise time and place. It's not about geopolitics or man's evil nature. It has interesting things to say about god or the absence of god, but it's not by any means a religious parable.
Bleak? Yes. Monotonous? Yes, at times, deliberately so. But it is remarkably readable. And the character of the little boy is brilliantly rendered.
Haunting doesn't begin to describe this work. Read it, please.
The fathers reason for existence is his boy - this love drives him on - yet he has lost almost all hope - he knows what it takes to survive but how can he survive and at the same time remain human? What future is there for this boy? The boy in his innocence still reaches out to people he meet, while the father has to teach him to stay away from people who are all potential cannibals. Can they trust anyone - and what is life reduced to without human interaction, love, trust?
Also the idea about God comes and goes. The presence of God and the absence of God.
Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.
The writing is sparse, yet powerful. It's not a pleasant read, but thought-provoking. It certainly has made an impact on me.
An amazing story that I will carry with me for a long time.
The scenario in which McCarthy places his characters - a post apocalyptic wasteland - seems so hackneyed that nothing of value could be wrung from it, but McCarthy's sparse elegance and unrelenting cinematic vision draws nourishment from this dead metaphor just as his main subject, an unnamed man (in this regard, as in many, McCarthy invokes his "Western" roots) draws nourishment from handfuls of dead chaff scratched from the floor of a barn.
McCarthy's writing is really exquisite: it these post-ironic times it is almost a guilty indulgence (and is that ever ironic, given the content!) to be treated to such master craftsmanship in the construction of simple, stark sentences. The imagery is consistently arresting, whether it be of wallpapered mansion walls bloated and buckled with years of seepage, the heavy sea heaving and lagging, like some ashen, gunked-up pit of slag, or of an emaciated person likened to a human skull inhabited by an animal. (I'm trying my best to paraphrase, but alas I'm no Cormac McCarthy)
I found poems repeatedly came to mind: not just Eliot's The Wasteland, but Shelley's Ozymandias, in the shape of the buckled mansions, abandoned cities and wrecked, over-blown road, and Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in the visualisation of an environment so unrelentingly wet, yet utterly devoid of any life. There is no hint of even a new shoot of vegetation - let alone a life force like drinkable water: for all the rain and snow, the ash contamination means the couple are continually on the point of dying from thirst.
A few commentators have remarked on the "saccharine" ending, but I found no such thing: As a father, I found the father's dilemma as the book concludes was almost too unbearable to read, and the irony of the child's eventual resolution only accentuated the book's grim process.
Beautiful, haunting, and lyrical.
This is an incredibly tender, heartbreaking book, and whilst it's set in a post-apocalypse world for me that was almost secondary. This is a novel about the fierce bonds of love; a loving father ploughing onwards on a journey to nowhere solely for the sake of his son. A young boy full of terror and fear desperately digging deep for the courage that his father deserves to find in him.
Cormac McCarthy conveys so brilliantly the utter hopelessness of their situation. The world is destroyed, the few people remaining have largely turned violently dangerous, and there is no escape from the desolation, cold, hunger and fear. There is no reason to go on, yet they are driven onwards by a father's unrelenting love.
I found McCarthy's writing to be much more accessible than expected - almost spare. I get the impression that this is not necessarily the case for all his books, but I loved this, and I'll certainly take a risk on another McCarthy book in the future.
4.5 stars - I'm going to be walking down 'the road' in my mind for quite some time to come.
An uncompromising, often harrowing read that lingers in the memory long after the last page is turned. Apparently there's a film version in the works, I'd be surprised if Hollywood has the cojones or will to translate this as written, I can certainly see them wanting to change the ending.
When I say dark and cold, I mean it more than for most books referred to that way. I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, and I had to set the book down periodically to keep going.
In the end, however, this book "carried the fire" through to the ending, and I don't regret reading it.
So, aside from a review of the book just yet, it made me think: Sparse—is this why the book did so well with critics and regulars readers alike? There is this trend due to so much information coming down the pipeline that in order to express it all, we've all developed our own Newspeak of shortening both words & information in order to express it all. It has even gotten to the point that we expect this when receiving information. Now, I am certain this is not the author's intention, and is merely just his style, but there is a clever ploy being played here. The book in question was sparse enough to be read very quickly, with an average reader burning through the pages faster than reading nearly anything else out there just barely reaching 300 pages in length…but the subject matters that the story contained were poignant enough to get the emotional mechanics moving within each individual reader.
I got to thinking: had this book been more detailed and included quotation marks and developed whys & hows of the setting & characters, would it be as well received as it presently is? I have no idea…that’s just my open question unto the world concerning The Road.
My own feeling is that I was sucked into the book. I had enough glimpses of what had happened to the world and why no one at all could be trusted to keep me riveted. I am also a bit biased because I enjoy the end-of-the-world genre. I feel like it is something I could even write one of these days… This book has further inspired me to someday reach that goal.
The Road is also a very bleak book. The two main characters, The Man and The Boy, are always on the brink of dying from something (usually starvation). Though you never find out the names of these two, one does developed a kinship with them as they struggle to survive, as they love each other as a father and son, as they find such a simple task of staying warm as one of the hardest things to achieve…
A movie based on this book is going to be released soon. It is going to be interesting to see how true they remain to the story; because there are horrors seen and experienced here that when seen on screen make shock and dismay.
There is real love in this book, the love between a father and his boy. That is what really, above all else, make this book a special one.
1) Annoying, inconsistent punctuation;
2) The total absence of background information regarding how the father and son came to be wandering through a post-apocalyptic hell;
3) The niggling suspicion that if the author's name was Joe Bloggs instead of Cormac McCarthy, more people would be saying, "What a wanker!" rather than "What a masterpiece!"
That said, I confess I don't usually read post-apocalyptic novels and probably began this one with something of a bias. The idea of telling this story through a profound relationship is compelling, though I don't think that relationship succeeded in the book. The moments of horror were well done.
Whenever a Big, Earthshaking, Oprah-Loved-It-And-Everyone-Must-Read-It-Or-Else book comes along, I expect to be the lone voice of dissent. I’m going to hate it. It’s going to flop for me. I’m going to wonder what the hell everyone else is thinking.
Of course, I almost always love it.
This time, I figured I’d skip a step and just expect to love THE ROAD from the get-go. And wouldn’t you know it, but I can’t say as I did.
I did like it. I found it readable and evocative and all that jazz. But I’m almost certain I’ll have forgotten all about it by this time next week.
I feel like some sort of an emotional cripple. Everyone else on the planet thinks THE ROAD was a total sob-fest, filled with poignant contemplations on the nature of love and devotion and meaning and spirituality and seven million other wonderful things. And I mean, I know it was, but I rarely felt it.
I got it. I may be an emotional cripple, but an intellectual dunce I ain’t. I done my time on the literature front, my dears. I done it good. And I’ll tell you, you could get a couple dozen paper topics out of this book wicked easy. You could spend a week or two discussing it in class. There’s a lot to mull over here, a lot to think about and paw through and ramble on about. I can think of about a thousand discussion questions I’d like to take a class through.
I mean, how many people have mentioned McCarthy’s sparse prose in your (glowing) reviews? There’s a paper or two just in the way he’s pared everything down. Why do some contractions deserve apostrophes while others dont? How do the absent quotation marks influence our reaction to the dialogue? How do the many brief scenes drive the narrative forward? What’s going on with that one chunk of first person in the sea of third? Would you that the nameless characters, divorced from pre-apocalypse social norms, allow us to insert ourselves into the text? Etc. etc.
Then there’s the world itself. Why do you think McCarthy never tells us just what happened? Do you think it’s important to know how society reached this state? How does McCarthy show us the tension between the father/son duo and the rest of society? Between the man and the boy themselves? In what ways does hunger drive the story forward? How would the book be different if the man and the boy traveled through a warm wasteland? Is THE ROAD science fiction masquerading as literature or literature masquerading as science fiction? In what ways does it coincide with and diverge from our expectations of both literature and science fiction?
So there’s a lot here. It’s an intellectually stimulating book. There were moments, too, when I came this close to realizing what everyone was on about. (There’s a particularly good scene where the man and the boy cower in the gutter while a cannibalistic convoy rolls along past them. It chilled me). I could tell you all about how the story's many layers appealed to me, and how I found that McCarthy's approach drove the story onwards in some interesting ways. But at day’s end, I feel all right about passing this book along. I'm pretty sure I'll try more of McCarthy's work in the future, but I won’t need to read this one again.
(A slightly different version of this review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina).