"The nights were blinding cold and casket black and the long reach of the morning had a terrible silence to it."
"...Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland."
I neither buy nor read collections of poetry. I can count the poems I know, at least the non-limerick ones, on a single hand. I'm not a fan of poetry, and I truly see much of it as overblown, a good thing taken to a ridiculously inflated extreme. This book isn't poetry, but it's also not pure narrative. It's somewhere in the gray between, and I enjoyed every single page of it.
McCarthy had me on the 14th line when I read "granitic beast." No, I didn't have to be told this was a reference to stone. Its use here, early in the work, deliberate, familiar yet uncommon, communicated to me exactly what this book would be about, and more importantly how it would be told, and I couldn't wait to ingest it. The contemplated and intentional use of this word in this place told me of texture and color and temperature, and its context told me of fear, uncertainty, cruelty, and the close specter of menace. I was hooked before the first page was done.
I enjoyed this book's writing style immensely, its story simple and told in a manner that came to me clearly, instantly creating depth with a minimum of prose. Words like "envaccuuming," and phrases like "isocline of death" were absolutely brilliant--I bite my hand melodramatically wishing I'd written them. This highly evocative austerity was mirrored in the father's and the son's conversations, in which so little was said, but in which I was seeing absolutely clearly the cant of a head, a look in the eyes, the faintest curl of smile. I was reminded very happily of the magnificent work of James Dickey, especially To the White Sea.
And the wonderfully lyrical story unfolded. No, I didn't need quotation marks or crucial apostrophes. There was never any question what was happening, who was saying what or where the story was headed. Honestly, do they care about proper punctuation in the wasteland? I didn't miss a thing, and the modestly different narrative presentation didn't faze me in the least. In fact, it reminded me instantly of e e cummings. Ah, reluctantly back to poetry. Later on when the pair made it to the sea, and the prose touched on "...shuttling..," instantly T. S. Eliot's classic came to mind.
I very much enjoyed the father, an object lesson in survival and just what that takes. He not only was educated, but also remembered it and knew how and when to apply it. He was inventive, attentive and observant, and deliberately learned from every experience. He anticipated, adapted and showed the courage to take immediate action, having thought through consequences beforehand. He was no MacGyver, but from the opening minutes of the crisis he knew what was at hand; his survival, and his son's, were due to his seriousness and intelligence and his application of them.
This book is not about the end of the world. It's not about nuclear winter, man's inevitable murder of the planet, the inherent barbarity of man, none of that. This book is about the only thing that matters, a parent's love for a child, and what at the absolutely basic level of survival you can and cannot do for those whom you treasure most, what you will go through and what you must decide upon for them to have all they need and deserve. This book is about the rapture and the agony of parenthood. It took me two nights to read this book, and both nights after midnight when I reluctantly put it down, I went upstairs to re-tuck-in my daughter and my son, and to kiss them in their sleep, through the silent tears of adoration this book brought forth.
This unpleasantly dark, ominous book reminded me of a few crucial things: My daughter and my son are the most incredible and important things I have ever done or will ever do. Their well-being is never assured, and I can never, ever stop looking out for them and teaching them what I know of their world. One day I will move on, and they must be ready when that happens.
Bottom line: This is not a cheery, happy, frothy and light read. It is cold and hard and painful. But there is joy in it. Be ecstatic it is only a story, that tonight you sleep in a bed in a house, with food, water, and your dog on the hearth. Be aware of and happy that you are reading this expertly rendered, magnificently crafted work of highly evocative prose, and look forward to the next one, whatever the subject.
on March 28, 2007
"The Road" is a work of stunning, savage, heartbreaking beauty. Set in the post-apocalyptic hell of an unending nuclear winter, Cormac McCarthy writes about a nameless man and his young son, wandering through a world gone crazy; bleak, cold, dark, where the snow falls down gray; moving south toward the coast, looking somewhere, anywhere, for life and warmth. Nothing grows in this blasted world; people turn into cannibals to survive. We don't know if we're looking at the aftermath of a nuclear war, or maybe an extinction level event -- an asteroid or a comet; McCarthy deliberately doesn't tell us, and we come to realize it doesn't matter anyway. Whether man or nature threw a wild pitch, the world is just as dead.
The boy's mother is a suicide, unable to face living in a world where everything's gone gray and dead. Keep on living and you'll end up raped and murdered along with everybody else, she tells the man. The man and his son are "each the other's world entire"; they have only each other, they live for each other, and their intense love for each other will help them survive. At least for a while.
But survival in this brave new world is a dicey prospect at best; the boy and the man are subjected to sights no one should ever have to see. Every day is a scavenger hunt for food and shelter and safety from the "bad guys", the marauding gangs who enslave the weak and resort to cannibalism for lack of any other food. We are the good guys, the man assures his son. Yet in their rare encounters with other living human beings, the man resorts to primitive survivalism, refusing help to a lost child and a starving man, living only for himself and his son, who is trying to hold onto whatever humanity he has left. It's in these chance encounters with other people, even more than their interaction with each other, that we see them for who they really are. The boy is a radiantly sweet child, caring, unselfish, wanting and needing to reach out to others, even though this bleak, blasted world is the only environment he's ever known; the father, more cautious, more bitter, has let the devastation enwrap him until all he cares about is himself and his son. And to hell with everybody else.
Their journey to the coast is an unending nightmare through the depths of hell and the only thing that holds them together is their love for each other. When one is ready to give up, the other refuses to let him. I won't let you go into the darkness alone, the man reassures his son. But ultimately, as the boy finds out, everyone is on his own, and all you can do is keep on keeping on.
McCarthy has proven himself a master of minimalism; with a style as bleak as the stripped terrain the man and the boy travel through, but each sentence polished as a gem, he takes us into the harsh reality of a dying world. The past is gone, dead as the landscape all around them, and the present is the only reality. There is no later, McCarthy says. This is later. Deep down the man knows there is nothing better to hope for down the road, even though he keeps them both slogging down it, only to keep his son alive. And we keep slogging down that road with them, hoping against hope that around the next corner or five miles down the line, maybe there is something, anything, to make survival worth while.
Living in such a hell, why would anyone want to survive? The mother made her decision; she checked out long ago. We come to the end of this book totally drained, enervated, devastated, but curiously uplifted. Because as long as there is love, McCarthy tells us, maybe there is something to live for, and as the book shows us at the end, maybe there is a even little bit of hope.
on October 24, 2006
By now we all know that Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a disturbing post-apocalyptic novel centered around an unnamed man and his son and their struggle for survival. As was expected, many things in the novel are horrific yet described with McCarthy's ability to see beauty in the grotesque (it is this fact, by the way, that makes me see him as more of Southern writer than a Western one). Most of these things are known about the novel by reading the first paragraph of the many, many reviews, but none of these things have anything to do with what makes the novel good or bad to me.
I recently read A Farewell to Arms and in many ways I was reminded of the war sections of that book while reading The Road. Not only are we looking at, in both, the ability of man to persevere even when all hope is gone, but one scene in The Road of the man considering hiding out in a barn seemed so reminiscent of a similar scene in A Farewell to Arms that I had to read it as some sort of tribute. Also we could look at the one image of hope in McCarthy's novel as also taken from Hemingway, as Jennifer Egan notes in her essay "Men at Work" from Slate.com.
The comparisons to Hemingway end there. The language of The Road may be verbose, more descriptive, but this is much bleaker than anything I've read by Hemingway. McCarthy, through repetitive struggles, similar scenes and the perpetual ash, pushes the reader into feeling some of the hopelessness felt by his characters. The lack of chapter breaks in the novel also helps to force us along. I made the mistake of often reading the book before bed and I fell asleep then with the images of burn and barren, ash-covered landscapes and the feeling that someone was always behind me, following, just out of sight.
If we measure a book by its staying power, the way it continues to haunt and linger, The Road surpasses many other books. If I'm asked, though, whether I "like" the book, I might not be able to answer convincingly in the affirmative.
THE ROAD is a tremendous achievement, multi-layered, yet with enough surface story to attract mainstream readers. It resonates with classic allusions, simple parables, endearing moments, aphorisms, even some old testament language a la BLOOD MERIDIAN. In fact all of McCarthy's earlier novels are echoed here.
As with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, all of the doomsday clocks, both personal and communal, stop at 1:17, a reference to John 1:17 in the Book of Revelations. As with his previous novel, McCarthy names love as the one value worth living for in this vale of tears, the last thing to go.
Comic relief is provided in the form of Ely, the only named character in the book. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether they think that Ely is the prophet Elijah, Christ in ragged disguise, Buddha on the Road, or just a funny old man who speaks in koans.
THE ROAD will remind some of Jose Saramago's BLINDNESS, which won the Nobel Prize for that deserving author. Others will liken the beautiful writing to the very best of Ernest Hemingway--with the understatement one finds in BIG, TWO-HEARTED RIVER and THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
Cliched? Not in this reader's eyes. Of course the great themes here have been rendered before in the classics, and books are made of books. I immediately recognized Homer's ghosts of hades in here, pointing and pleading and crying for help.
What is the quote in THE ROAD on page 110? "Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it." Which resonates to a quote from Marcus Aurielius, saying that a man ought to live his life as if borrowed, and that he ought to be prepared at any time to give it back, saying--here, I thank you for this life which I have had in my possession.
I found it uplifting. A testament to the condition of humanity and the nature of death and the riddle of existence. Universal themes, the greatest themes in our literature.
on August 5, 2007
First, let me say that I would place _Blood Meridian_ in the top five 20th century American novels, along with _The Grapes of Wrath_, and _Sometimes a Great Notion_. Second, I borrowed the audio version of _The Road_, which allowed me to bypass the issues that some readers had with dialogue and punctuation. Narrator Tom Stechschulte does a wonderful job animating very difficult material. I highly recommend the audio version. First audio book I've listened to like this, but the story lends itself well to lying in bed with one's eyes closed just listening to the haunting tale. Third, I am a huge fan of dystopian science fiction, and apocalyptic tales in general. The only reason I give this 4 instead of 5 stars is because it's not perfect, nor nearly the masterpiece of _Blood Meridian_.
I read through every review on Amazon to date. This is obviously difficult material. It shows in the divergence of opinions. I'm going to ignore the negative comments due to the depressiveness of the subject matter. This is one of the most bleak stories I've ever encountered. It holds no punches about humanity. The themes of man's inhumanity to man are equally as evident in _Blood Meridian_, which is in many ways a better book. In many ways, McCarthy appears to have stripped off most of the excesses in BM and really pushed this book towards the questions of humanity, compassion, and hope.
Some people just don't "get it". For all the complaints of lack of convention, the story is quite conventional. McCarthy is dealing in archetypes. The parallels to _Lone Wolf and Cub_ that somebody mentioned in the discussions are apt. The reasons for the apocalypse are as inconsequential as the audio gear on the shelves of the stores that these characters enter. Why are some of you getting caught up in the why? It could have been the Christian Rapture, valcanoes, meteors, nuclear weapons, the Mayan Calendar, aliens. It just doesn't matter. You bring to it your own interpretation. Focus on what he does describe, as there's the wealth.
The names of the father and son are unimportant, and I don't get why some readers got so hung up on that point. Call the father Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady) from _On The Road_, off on some wild hallucinatory experience in the future. It just doesn't matter what their names are. It's almost better we don't get them. These are mythical characters we're dealing with on one hand, and everyman and his son on the other. It's not surprising that more than one father noted a great emotional connectedness in his review.
Others seem to be seeking far more action, and less repetition. The story about the clan of marauders with the red scarves, pikes, and slaves is another story. So is the story about the cellar of human food. These seem to be the stories that some lusted for. Instead the story you get is about the dull monotony of survival. Notice that the greatest level of detail in the story is applied to the four necessities of survival: water, food, shelter, movement. The first three of those are obvious.
McCarthy does an adequate job of describing that for the father, staying put for too long was anethema. Movement avoided stasis, and allowed them to continue to search for food supplies. Remaining in one place for too long in such a society would only make one a target. Staying at the bunker wouldn't have solved any problems, except for passing the time. I believe that movement in space was far more important to the father than movement in time. In some ways, this was how he kept up hope for the both of them.
The son kept up hope, by showing compassion for humanity that the disillusioned father could no longer muster. I think it's also a bit too extreme to label the father as a "bad guy". Perhaps he wasn't the "goodest" of "good guys", but he was a survivor. He wasn't interested in bothering anyone else, and seemed to almost practice the Golden Rule in reverse ... doing unto others as they had or showed intentions of doing onto them. Hence forcing the thief at the end to strip, as they had been deprived of their clothing and left to die. The ending was ambiguous enough to lend itself to multiple interpretations, but generally was a lot more hopeful than most of the rest of the story.
on February 29, 2008
My review will be done as dialogue presented in the same style and format as dialogue appears in this book (grammatical errors intentional):
The boy looked at the man. So, did you like the book?
It was ok.
Yes, just ok.
Why didn't you like it?
I don't know.
You don't know?
I guess it really didn't go anywhere. It just kind of meandered.
Walk, search for food, build a fire, try to stay dry, avoid the bad people and then get up and do it all over again.
Is that what happens?
It did. The characters, except for one, didn't have names so sometimes there would be two he's referred to in the same paragraph and you did not know which he was he.
And the dialogue did not use quotation marks. Apparently established authors can break grammatical rules and people will think it is genius.
And when dialogue ran several lines, the author didn't use said to break up who was talking so you didn't know if it was that he or the other he talking after a while.
I'm not even sure who you are talking about.
I'm not sure which one of us is talking right now either.
Me neither. Will we be ok?
You mean you and me?
Yeah . . . I guess.
Did you say that or did I say that?
on June 16, 2010
Is this a good book, papa?
I dont know.
Do you think it is a good book?
I didnt really understand a lot of it.
Thats okay son. You werent meant to understand most of it. And anyway, youre only an archetypal little boy.
Is Cormac McCarthy one of the bad guys, papa?
No, son. But in a morally ambiguous universe, he sometimes writes like one.
Okay. Where did the apostrophes go?
I dont know.
When I read stuff like the sentences quoted below, so am I.
"He rose and stood tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckonings. An old chronicle. To seek out the upright. No fall but preceded by a declination."
Papa, what is vestibular?
I dont know.
How about declination?
Beats me, son.
Now Im scared, too.
Thats okay son. Its not your fault. I should have known that you cant combine short dialogue like this with pretentious metaphysical imagery and get away with it.
Papa, the critics love this book. Are they they good guys?
No, son, they are not the good guys.
on April 29, 2007
First, I will say that The Road is worth reading; it is a good book. However, it is not the masterpiece so many are proclaiming it to be; and, too, it is not Mr. McCarthy's best novel (that would be Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West).
I've always admired Mr. McCarthy for his minimalist prose, intriguing characters, and stunning insights into the more darker side of the human condition. It's rare for novelists to mine such seemingly malefic territory and draw from it some kind of beauty or understanding. (Joyce Carol Oates is another of those rare novelists that springs instantly to mind; she, like Mr. McCarthy, is not afraid to shine a raw light onto aspects of human nature most other novelists would just as soon leave in the dark.)
While I've not read all of Mr. McCarthy's novels, I've read enough to know that I admire much of his work. For years, he has been regarded as one of America's greatest writers; indeed, the heir apparent to Faulkner and Hemingway. Anyone who has read Child of God, The Orchard Keeper, Blood Meridian, Outer Dark, or Suttree would, I think, be hard pressed to deny such a mantle to Mr. McCarthy.
Whenever a new novel written by Mr. McCarthy is released, I purchase it on its sale date. I had read some early reviews of The Road and was eagerly anticipating its release. And though it is a novel that one may read quickly, I chose instead to take my time, lingering over the prose. I found myself moved by the novel; however, as it went on, I became somewhat disheartened. It became sadly repetitive and its dialogue so vague as to be almost banal. Not something I'd encountered in Mr. McCarthy's work before. What I felt I was reading was in fact not a novel, but rather the notes for a novel or a screenplay that had yet to actually be written.
The plot has been covered numerous times in other reviews; therefore, I will not repeat it here. What I will say is this: In a world that has grown so savage, and so many of its surviving humans so vicious, it seemed odd to me that the main characters ("the good guys," as they describe themselves) maneuvered through the dangerous landscape as easily as they did. For the first time, I felt as if Mr. McCarthy were playing "the manipulative writer" rather than "the chronicler of specific lives."
In other words, the seams showed; there was no moment when I truly feared for the man and the boy, for Mr. McCarthy never relented in letting them get away from "the bad guys." Like the narrative description, this element persisted to a point in which I was more or less certain that I would not find myself surprised by a change of course. And it just didn't wash. To create such an ugly, dangerous, desperate world and then to let the main characters make it through that world more or less unscathed by the external evils -- it seemed more gimmick than story.
The novel's saving grace, however, is to be found in the closing pages. Mr. McCarthy comes alive here -- a little too late -- and the manner in which he chooses to end the novel is quite moving. The problem, of course, is that one has to slog through quite a bit of ash and mundane repetition to reach said point.
When I finished the novel, I wondered if perhaps I'd missed something. It's not a book I wouldn't recommend (Mr. McCarthy is a stunning writer, whether one reads his better works or his lesser ones), but it is one for which I felt bewilderment when I learned that it had won the Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps the board bent and decided to give Mr. McCarthy the award after years of ignoring his other -- better and more deserving -- novels (see Blood Meridian). It rather cheapened the awards for me, especially considering the other novels released last year that were better than The Road (The Echo Maker, Richard Powers; Everyman, Philip Roth; The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford -- to name a few).
Of the Pulitzer finalists, however, Richard Powers's The Echo Maker was definitely the more deserving of said literary accolade. Like many great novels (Beloved, Gravity's Rainbow, Gilead, The Known World, The Color Purple), it teaches one how to read it. Its characters are fully human; its narrative gripping and gorgeously rendered; its themes stunning in both their beauty and complexity; and its investigation of American life -- in the new millenium and post-911 -- so sharp and clarified that I often had to set aside the book and regard my own similar feelings to such a dark and turbulent time. It's what the best novels do: remind us who we are, from what we come, and perhaps offer us a glimpse of where we may be headed.
I might well have said the same about The Road, but it never struck me as being so fully realized as to stir such thoughts. It didn't tell me anything new that other post-apocalyptic fiction hadn't already touched and investigated. It seemed more like poetry crossed with the classic conventions of the road novel and sprinkled here and there with cryptic doses of George A. Romero.
A good book, but not one deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. Sadly, in the future, Mr. McCarthy will be regarded as "the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of The Road," when rather the accolade would better and more honestly read: "the Pulitzer Prize-Winning author of Blood Meridian."
Somewhere, in stripping down his prose as to make it skeletally spartan, Mr. McCarthy forgot -- as he didn't in other novels -- how to tell a full story about real human beings caught in the grip of real and extraordinary circumstances.
I was moved, but I was not convinced. And that saddens me, for Mr. McCarthy has been a writer whom I've admired and respected for a good many years.
Were he to win literature's highest accolade, it would have been better that he won for a novel worthy of the prize.
It rather reminds me of this year's Academy Awards, during which one of America's greatest filmmakers won awards for a film that, while good, was certainly not his best -- and perhaps because the voting membership, in trying to assuage past failures, felt that a consolation prize was better than no prize at all.
So, if one wishes to read and see the best of last year, then pick up Richard Powers's The Echo Maker, then walk over to the DVD section and pick out Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men (a film whose themes and milieu seem similar to those presented in Mr. McCarthy's The Road, only more fully and honestly).
Whew! THE ROAD is a draining, exhausting, bleak, gut-wrenching, bleak, fast-paced, bleak novel. Did I mention it was BLEAK?
The book is 279 pages and they fly by. I think I read the book in 4 hours...I could hardly make myself put it down. I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" reading it...but it was thoroughly gripping, as spare and uncompromising a novel as you would ever want to read.
It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, where the sun is never seen because the atmosphere is covered by ash. Ash that has painted the world gray, killed all plant life and probably all animals. More specifically, it is the story of a father and son ("the Man" and "the Boy") who are traveling on foot to the coast, pushing a shopping cart with their meager belongings. They move slowly, are almost always near starvation and must constantly be on the alert for cannibalistic bands of humans who will stop at NOTHING to stay alive.
The book is mostly a day-to-day depiction of the mundane yet important tasks they go through to stay alive. Filtering water. Finding clean blankets or new shoes. Eating seeds or long decayed apples. Never talking about the past.
The boy, whose age we don't know, but I would guess around 8...has never seen the world as it was. His father tries to blot out his memories and tries to come to grips with the fact that the world he is trying to survive in has no hope. The two talk often of how preferable death would be...yet they fight hard to stay alive.
It is the story of the love between the two...although the word "love" is never articulated. It is a survival story...but the while the plot hinges a great deal on foraging for food, the heft of the story comes from their scrambling towards a psychological / mental survival. How can the human spirit endure having nothing to live for?
The recent movie CHILDREN OF MEN depicted a society crumbling under the weight of knowing that no more children would be born. They had nothing to live for, because there was nothing to pass on. THE ROAD takes this feeling and amplifies it to an almost intolerable degree.
The story has brief moments of respite, when things go reasonably well for a short time. It's amazing what a relief these moments are...because the rest of the book is BLEAK. (The last couple of pages offer the absolute tiniest smidgens of what might be taken for hope. That's as "happy" as it's gonna get.)
I just finished the book yesterday, but I know I'll have a hard time shaking the feeling it left me with. While this is not an easy book to endure...it is very well written and it is an amazing achievement. Its perceptions of the state of these two main characters is so convincing. I highly recommend the book, even to a younger audience (say about 13 and above.) There's no bad language, it's very fast moving and I think could change the way a young person feels about the power of books to leave an important impact on their lives.
Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning and poetic novel is a difficult read both in content and prose, but is worth every effort to complete. McCarthy's economy of words and minimalist writing style leaves a context full of meaning, much of it sorrowful.
The writing in The Road intentionally lacks the flair of modern novelists, removing the wordy descriptions, bantering dialogue, and even common punctuation. What's left on the page is heart-rending narrative laid bare in its naked prose. This does not make for a quick or easy read.
The intent of McCarthy's style is mostly understood, except for a few caveats. Some sentences are punctuated with commas; others are broken apart with periods, allowing adjectival phrases to stand on their own fragmented merits. Most contractions retain their apostrophe, but the apostrophe is missing in any word contracting "not" (wouldnt, dont, cant). But the most confusing aspect of McCarthy's writing is the change in narrative, not just from different third person narratives, but at least one paragraph switches to the first person narrative (page 115 in the paperback version).
The artistic merit of the novel stands strong. The movie The Road does a great job of clearing up the flashbacks that aren't clearly defined in the book, but it does not retain the powerful meaning of the book itself. Both are heavy to the soul, but the book stands alone when compared side-by-side.
If you are looking to expand your reading level or are seeking to enrich your life through written mediums, then The Road is a definitely needed addition to your list. If you are looking for a cheerful or quick read, you'll be better served elsewhere.