Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 2007. It has been read and reviewed all over, but that probably won't stop me from adding my thoughts to the mix.

This was the first book I have read by this author, and his style is not pleasing to me, but it did not bother me in this book (though I was put off by some others I looked at in the bookstore). The spare, staccato sentences have a rhythm to them that matches the story, and it fits too well to imagine the story being told in any other way. The occasional repetition of certain phrases adds to the lyric effect.

"You have to talk to me."

"I'm talking."

Although, the way Cormac McCarthy writes it, there are no quotation marks or apostrophes.

This is a post-apocalyptic story, with no explanation of how the world came to be as it is. It reminded me of earth's surface in the movie The Matrix, but without the machines. In the movie, the humans declare, "It was we who scorched the sky," and in The Road, that is precisely what has been done. Some years ago (at least 5, I think; maybe as many as 10), the sun was blotted out, and the greater part of the population was killed. The world is ashy gray, and cold, and comfortless. In this world, there is no way to start over. Without the sun, there is no way to produce new food, and so the survivors are reduced to living as parasites on the decaying civilization, scrabbling for the remnants, of which it is only too clear that there must be a limited supply.

The book is the story of a man and a boy (his son)--nameless, ageless, hopeless. In this world, the weak and alone fall prey to bands of modern savages, who hunt the only thing left to be hunted. They are moving along the road, moving south toward the ocean, hoping it will be warmer. Along the way, they scavenge for food, try to avoid other people, and rarely remain in one place more than a day or two.

Early in the book, we understand that the father is dying, but he insists that they press on, down the road.

I don't want to give away the ending. Others have written that they thought about the book for days after finishing it, and it has been the same for me. The father insists that they press on because they "carry the fire." Not long ago, I read one blogger who thought the "fire" might be hope, but it didn't feel quite like hope to me. Nothing could be more hopeless than the circumstances of this world. Or at least, maybe the fire is just one small aspect of hope--the will to live, no matter what. But not to live as a savage--to live as a man, to preserve what shreds of dignity and fineness man has left, and they are not much.

One of the reasons I think this will to live is the "fire" is that the man actually has a hard time sharing his will to live with his son, who has known no world but this one. He has instilled in the boy a just horror of the worst kind of savagery known to man, but the boy is astute enough to see that they are not really much better--they may not kill outright, but when they steal or eat some food, they are contributing to, if not causing, the death of others. He doesn't want to be what he almost has to be in order to survive, and so his will to live wavers.

This book doesn't feel like realism or a "true" story to me. It has more of an allegorical fairy- tale quality--the dark woods, the wicked witches, the big bad wolves--but there are no heroes to make it come right. It was an interesting book--one to ponder--but not one I'd enthusiastically recommend to be enjoyed. You read this one to peer into the heart of man and see the worst that he can be, and how inadequate he is even at best.


At 2:37 PM , Blogger Trish said...

you write: "but not one I'd enthusiastically recommend to be enjoyed. You read this one to peer into the heart of man and see the worst that he can be, and how inadequate he is even at best." I think this describes McCarthy's style fairly well. I own this one and a few others that I haven't read as well as The Crossing and No Country for Old Men which I have read. McCarthy is best, but there is something about his writing that keeps me wanting more. I'm sorry this one didn't do it for you. I've heard VERY mixed reviews. Thanks for your thoughts (I found this on Semicolon).

At 4:54 PM , Blogger Krakovianka said...

I did not mean that I would not recommend it--just not as an "enjoyable" read. Sorry for the confusion. If I heard anyone say, "I really enjoyed this book!" about The Road, it would make me shudder.

The more I think about it, the more I think it is not post-apocalyptic at all. I said it was allegorical, and I think the allegory is more a description of our current world than not.

At 6:20 PM , Blogger Maw Books said...

I never know quite what to say when I highly recommend a book, but it wasn't "enjoyable." This sounds like it's one of those books that has a heavier subject matter and makes you think. I have this on my TBR list and keep pushing it back. I think I'm scared to read it for some reason. Thanks for your review.

At 6:41 PM , Blogger Framed said...

I read "All The Pretty Horses" by McCarthy. While I liked it, I'm not sure I want to read any more of his work. I own "No Country for Old Men" and dither about what to do with it.

At 6:15 AM , Blogger Kathleen said...

I remember reading somewhere that McCarthy said the environmental conditions in the book were due to a meteor collision with the earth. Personally I found the book rather gloomy and didn't really get the ending either. I think you hit it on the head perfectly when you wrote "there are no heros to make it come right", that for me made an unsatisfying ending.

At 6:27 PM , Blogger Heather said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent post!

At 4:49 PM , Blogger Annalea said...

Just stopping by to thank you for the high praise you left in response to my post on copyright. I really appreciate it. ;o)

And I'll have to browse around and see what else you've reviewed . . . I love to read, and have a hard time having any idea where to start to find something good.

Have a great week!


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