Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Website of Author:
Publication date: 2006
ISBN -13: 978-0-307-47630-2
Length: 287 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Reviewer: Clayton Clifford Bye
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The Road by Cormac McCarthy is about a nameless man and his young son, referred to as the boy. They’re walking toward the southern coast of the Atlantic, hoping to escape from a winter the man knows they can’t survive. A catastrophe (also unnamed) that has turned the world into a place of ash, perpetual gray days and freezing nights hasn’t finished with them yet. It’s getting colder every day. Scavenging for food has become necessary for survival. Almost everyone and everything in the world is dead. The only living things you’ll encounter in McCarthy’s post apocalyptic story are small groups of cannibals, slowly starving people who scavenge what they can (like the boy and the man), a dog and some chanterelles.
The boy, who was born into this life is told stories about how things used to be, while being exposed to horrific sights and events: people half melted into a highway, a baby roasting on a spit, decapitated heads displayed in many ways and dead forests where one can’t sleep because trees start falling over in the mildest of winds.
As they travel in search of warmer climes, we see that the boy has been taught a rudimentary of sense right and wrong, good and bad. He also knows how to read a little. The boy and his father have no hope of a better world (other than reaching a place with a lesser degree of cold), yet they continue to scavenge to eat and to replace clothes and blankets that continually wear out from the constant walking and the unending dampness and cold. The father is dying, and as his health deteriorates his choices become very simple, very clear: self-interest for the boy and himself above all.
The man knows he’ll eventually have to kill the boy and then himself, which makes his will to survive as strong as the hardest steel. The boy having known nothing and noone else during his short life, considers the man his entire world, believing in him wholeheartedly until given reason not to. This is most apparent as his father makes ever toughening decisions in order for them to survive, where the boy would have picked sharing food, helping another boy he sees in one of the ravaged towns, befriending a wandering dog and showing some basic compassion for a man who tried to steal their food and supplies. Yet they love each other unconditionally, even as the boy slowly works toward a form of independence.
How the book ends, the resolution of the death problem, the culmination of the boy’s mental growth and what it will mean for his future, is and must be expected. McCarthy has left no room for hope as he writes of the dead world and the few left who pick at its skin. But the beauty of the love and companionship in a place where you would expect just the opposite simply mesmerizes. The Road is a book that sticks its claws into your chest and doesn’t let go until long after you put the book away.
The main reason for this last statement is the way McCarthy writes. As my 18 year-old son said today. “He [McCarthy] hates punctuation and writes so simply, yet I felt like I was reading poetry.” Further discussion revealed what my boy meant: McCarthy’s writing seems so simple and clean to him—short scenes, no quotation marks when someone’s speaking, characters who speak in monosyllables and a book that’s so easy to read it’s finished before you’re ready to let it go. Yet when you do come away from The Road, it’s with the feeling you’ve been reading poetry.
The Road was a #1 National Bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2010
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