Spitzit’s House

Where serious topics come to relax

Book Review – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy was published in 2006, and won the much coveted Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007. This is a difficult review to write because this is one serious and profound book, and yet I am compelled to find something shallow and humorous to say in what is a completely humorless book.

I was recently browsing the list of Pulitzer prize books to find something that would stimulate my inner literary genius, when I cam across The Road. ‘Man and son traveling cross country in a Post-apocalyptic world’. Sounded fascinating and exciting and so we set out to 1/2 Price Books to immediately get started on what was sure to be an adventurous story. Afterall, Cormac also authored No Country For Old Men, All The Pretty Horses, and Blood Meridian which all became or are becoming motion pictures, as well as a slew of other popular books that I have never read.

Before I even cracked the book open, images of Kevin Costner in Waterworld and The Postman were already swirling in my head. These were awful movies, of course,but entertaining just the same and I was certain that The Road would be the God Father of all Apocalyptic stories. I was salivating to start reading and as soon as I read the very first page …’Oh My God’ I thought to myself. I quickly thumbed through the rest of the book…’NO, OH NO NO NO NO!’ There were no chapters, there were no quote marks…just page after page of what appeared to be small lyrical paragraphs that were going to be just like the first page. I panicked, and asked my wife to listen as I read the first page aloud to her. “Did any of that make sense to you?” I asked her. Of course it didn’t, and my worst fear was becoming evident. I was about to embark on a journey of some 270 plus pages of nonsensical poetry. UGH!

I resisted the strong urge to put the book down, and pressed on determined to finish the book whether it made sense to me or not. I’m truly glad that I did, because I really enjoyed the book and managed to finish it in just a couple of days. For me, the book was very profound, yet very simple, and deeply moving. How is that, you ask? Well, it just was and it is hard to describe.

The two main characters are known simply as the Man and the Boy. There are no names, and the region itself is relatively anonymous other than it is in the US. Some kind of undescribed catastrophic event has taken place in the past ten years, and the world is now a desolate gray place, unable to sustain life of any kind. There are very few survivors left, and in the midst of all the nothingness, it is quite evident that Good and Evil have both managed to survive and Evil seems to be running up the score.

There is no sun, no moon, and no stars due to the ever present ash obscuring the sky. The days are gray, and the nights are black…pitch black. There are no animals, no birds, no bees, no bugs, not even any roaches. The trees are all dead, the rivers are black, and the rain, snow and ocean are all gray. The world itself seems to be completely cold, silent, and dead. The man and his son are traveling the road south to find warmer climates, while trying to avoid the occasional marauding gangs of cannibal survivors. The boy was born into this world and has no preconceived notion of any other kind of world that existed. The mother…well, she is no longer around simply because she did not have the will to go on.

I’m cold

I know

I’m hungry

I know, I am too

I’m scared

It’ll be alright

OK

The verbal exchanges are brief and to the point. This novel is graphic and disturbing in some of its literary images, and silent and completely depressing in others. It paints a grand picture of complete hopelessness and how some manage to eke out survival despite it all. So here is where I break down what it meant to me, and is not to be interpreted as the true meaning of this book at all.

For me, this book is about life and even more about death. It is about good and even more about Evil. It is about hope, but more about hopelessness. It is basic primordial human nature and how we struggle against the fear of death and evil within ourselves. The Road for me signifies Time, and how it continues on with or without us; How we are trapped by it, with no real choice but to follow it with only the slim hope that around the next curve or over the next hill something better is going to be waiting for us. Sometimes there is and mostly there is not, and either way, it is always fleeting and temporary. The only thing that the Road guarantees is that you will die here and it will continue on. The man seemed to represent that basic humanity as he struggles to remain human in the face of hopelessness and the imminent end. The boy, well, for me he seemed to represent the future; A future with no knowledge of the past, and the tiny glimmer of hope that good could prevail while Evil would eventually devour itself. The world that McCarthy paints in this book is our world and there is nothing in it that does not already exist today. However, he has done a magnificent job of simply stripping out everything, and I mean everything, so that the reader has to focus on the cold hard reality. Imagine humanity as we know it stripped of all distractions…no color, no noise, no movement…no love. Pure nothingness. The only emotion is basically fear and the will to survive. Where each day is basically the same as the one before, and everything hinges on evading the inevitable embrace of death one day at a time.

If that all sounds real deep and depressing, that is because it freakin’ is. When I finished this book, I checked on my kids in their beds, kissed them, went to my kitchen and opened the pantry door and stared at all of the food and canned goods and thanked God for all of it. I don’t even like black-eyed peas, and yet I am still so glad I have a can in my cupboard. I resisted the urge to start opening cans and begin eating like it might be my last supper.

Granted, The Road is not at all what I expected it to be when I read that first page. In fact, it turned out to be something entirely different, but better. It is one of those rare books that you read, and when you are done, you truly take something away from it; something that affects you, makes you think…and it is something different for everybody I would imagine. It is no doubt a lit teacher’s wet-dream, chock full of all kinds of symbolism, irony, and other literary stuff, but I am not for one second going to try and tell anyone what old man McCarthy was trying to convey when he wrote this book.

I am very happy to see that Viggo Mortensen will play the man in the movie to release in November. Charlize Theron as the wife?? Don’t get that since there is barely half a page dedicated to the wife in the whole book, but I won’t argue about seeing Charlize in anything. Add Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce and you have a pretty star studded feature film based on a book that really has very little interaction or characters other than the man and the boy.

On a side note, one thing unique or irritating about the book is Mccarthy’s writing style. He has no use of quotation marks or other important grammatical points, and therefore it is sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking or if they are speaking at all. The book is indeed written in a lyrical prose kind of style and I have the distinct impression that he makes up words from time to time, or just uses really obscure words to make the prose sound more intelligent, poetic, or whatever. At any rate, many will undoubtedly consider his style genius, but to me, it sucks when obscure words are used that I don’t know or have never heard of. It makes me want to reach for a dictionary which then just distracts from the flow of the story. I personally find it pretentious and unnecessary, but what do I know? I am just your every day dummy who likes to read, and old Cormac is quite possibly the Hemingway of his generation.

Loved the book, and would recommend it to just about anyone, But you really have to be an open-minded reader with a taste for a bit of necessary gore and a hard dose of death and hopelessness.

This is really just my incredibly intelligent opinion, and I am sticking with it…until the end of the world and someone tries to eat me.

October 1, 2008 - Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I like your review of the book. My friend, who is a literature teacher at Texas A&M, asked me to weigh in on my opinion. I wrote a very short review but you basically said everything that I felt about the book. The writing style didn’t bother me as badly as it did you, but I did notice the seemingly made-up words. I thought maybe I was just dumb and didn’t know what they meant so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t want to look it up in the dictionary!

    Great review.

    Comment by LeLe | February 4, 2009


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