Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Road

Cormac McCarthy deserved the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his novel The Road. I'm glad I waited to read The Road until now so I could fully appreciate the writing as well as the story. Originally published in 2006, my paperback copy is 287 pages long. As I am sure others have done, I stayed up too late to finish this book last night.

*Disclaimer before the review: As a friend mentioned in her review, I would also like to make it clear that The Road was on my to-be-read list long before Oprah put it on her list. This will also apply to the next book I am starting. They were on my list because they are Pulitzer Prize winning novels, not because Oprah told people to read them.
On to the review; there may be spoilers.

The Road is set in post-apocalyptic America after a nuclear exchange or an extinction event. McCarthy has set in writing what a nuclear winter or huge asteroid strike will likely encompass, although he has purposefully left what catastrophic event actually happened unnamed. The land, sky, and water are all gray, ashen, dead. It is a hopeless, lifeless environment where all of the remaining survivors are starving and many are cannibals. In The Road we are traveling toward the sea with a man and his son (who was born shortly after the known world ended) on what remains of the highway system. The man and his son are "the good guys"; the ones who don't eat people.

The driving force of this novel is not the journey on the road, but the love the father has for his son. The only reason the father has to survive is to ensure his son's survival. He proves he will do anything to protect his son, to keep his son alive while death seems to be their traveling companion. The father knows what he has lost, what the world was before.

While the father's sole concern is his son's survival, even while witnessing horrific scenes since his birth and with an understanding on some level that it could threaten their survival, the boy, amazingly, seems to have a compassion for other people. This dead world is all he has ever known. At the end, when it seems that all hope is gone, we are left with a small kernel of faith that goodness has indeed continued to find the boy.

McCarthy's writing style in The Road is restrained and minimalistic. It suits the book. The lack of some punctuation didn't bother me at all. All the sentences are finely crafted. There is no extra information, only the bare minimum you need to follow the journey and their efforts to survive.

I highly recommend The Road.


"He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it."

"Once in those early years he'd awakened in a barren wood and lay listening to flocks of migratory birds overhead in that bitter dark. Their half muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl. He wished them godspeed till they were gone. He never heard them again."

"So be it. Evoke the forms. When you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them."

"He tried to think of something to say but he could not. He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever."

"Some part of him always wished it to be over."

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