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The Road Paperback – March 28, 2007
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Best known for his Border Trilogy, hailed in the San Francisco Chronicle as "an American classic to stand with the finest literary achievements of the century," Cormac McCarthy has written ten rich and often brutal novels, including the bestselling No Country for Old Men, and The Road. Profoundly dark, told in spare, searing prose, The Road is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece, one of the best books we've read this year, but in case you need a second (and expert) opinion, we asked Dennis Lehane, author of equally rich, occasionally bleak and brutal novels, to read it and give us his take. Read his glowing review below. --Daphne Durham
Guest Reviewer: Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane, master of the hard-boiled thriller, generated a cult following with his series about private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, wowed readers with the intense and gut-wrenching Mystic River, blew fans all away with the mind-bending Shutter Island, and switches gears with Coronado, his new collection of gritty short stories (and one play).
Cormac McCarthy sets his new novel, The Road, in a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. If this sounds oppressive and dispiriting, it is. McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war, and in this recent age of relentless saber-rattling by the global powers, it's not much of a leap to feel his vision could be not far off the mark nor, sadly, right around the corner. Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for love. In fact that greatest love affair in any of his novels, I would argue, occurs between the Billy Parham and the wolf in The Crossing. But here the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out--the entire world is, quite literally, dying--so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith. --Dennis Lehane
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Violence, in McCarthy's postapocalyptic tour de force, has been visited worldwide in the form of a "long shear of light and then a series of low concussions" that leaves cities and forests burned, birds and fish dead and the earth shrouded in gray clouds of ash. In this landscape, an unnamed man and his young son journey down a road to get to the sea. (The man's wife, who gave birth to the boy after calamity struck, has killed herself.) They carry blankets and scavenged food in a shopping cart, and the man is armed with a revolver loaded with his last two bullets. Beyond the ever-present possibility of starvation lies the threat of roving bands of cannibalistic thugs. The man assures the boy that the two of them are "good guys," but from the way his father treats other stray survivors the boy sees that his father has turned into an amoral survivalist, tenuously attached to the morality of the past by his fierce love for his son. McCarthy establishes himself here as the closest thing in American literature to an Old Testament prophet, trolling the blackest registers of human emotion to create a haunting and grim novel about civilization's slow death after the power goes out. 250,000 announced first printing; BOMC main selection.(Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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As far as dystopian literature goes, this is quite a step.
The story of a father and his son, walking to the sea through a ravaged, cold and grey world, hoping to somehow, find a better place, doesn't leave much space for a happy ending. Bleak is truly bleak here, not a lot of silver linings!
And yet...and yet, this is a beautiful book.
The writing is fantastic, for starter. The style, with short and descriptive sentences, carries the story to perfection. It also has a poetic quality that softens what is said/described and gives it another dimension.
The real beauty of the novel isn't on the outside though, but resides inside, in the incredible bond uniting father and son, a love so deep and unconditional that it seems to erase age gap and life experience, to only focus on their desire to care for each other. This love and concomitant sense of humanity stripped to its essence, manage to give sense and meaning to their otherwise hopeless journey.
On a deeper level, it also seems to invite us to reflect on what makes a life meaningful: beyond a primal survival instinct, what makes life worth living even when there is no hope in sight? The Road's answer is that, ultimately, what matters isn't "what" makes your life, but "how" you choose to live that "what"...
Reviewer J. McClain was entirely accurate when he said, "McCarthy has a very descriptive writing style, but uses a minimum of words in the process." The techniques used to narrate was one of the most compelling elements of the novel.
"The boy lay with his face in his arms, terrified. They passed two hundred feet away, the ground shuttering lightly. Tramping. Behind them came wagons drawn by slaves in harness and piled with goods of war..."
The plot revolves around the father and the son, represented respectively by "he" and "the boy." Their names are never learned, which makes the emptiness and desolation in the book ever greater. The dialogue between characters uses rudimentary language, but the lack of quotation sometimes caused difficulty in distinguishing the speaker.
The Road is already well known to be dark and gruesome, but it is the love between father and son that is the highlight. They truly are each other's world's entire. They don't vocally express their love, yet their touching actions towards each other - letting the other have the first drink of water, trying to protect the other from rogue groups of human predators, pleading the other to stay close at all times - are the most moving aspects of their relationship.
Unfortunately, the question of The Road is whether love will be enough to survive. The writing is starkly existentialist. The notion of God was discussed a few times, and the idea of "Heaven" is pondered as well. Death is considered with little emotion, and whether the characters live or die… well, often they are indifferent. Life in their world and death wherever else may as well be equal. Existentialism questions the concept of having a "meaning" to life. The father's meaning, if there is one, is his son. His entire life is committed to protecting him and keeping him alive.
The Road is an above average read and overall a fresh view on a post-apocalyptic world (and perhaps one of the most realistic.) It is the type of novel that can give nightmares and maybe ruin a day if one is not accustomed to gory, somber material, so purchase with discretion! The Lexile level is 670L; the vocabulary, then, is not particularly challenging and could probably be deciphered by a 4th grader for the most part. However, the material dictates for a mature audience at least in high school. Any horror advocates will love it.
The book would receive 5 stars if it were at a faster pace and less repetitive. The same scenario occurred over and over, and the story simply dragged on to the point where the main characters would nearly die every time. While it is understandable that a book like this cannot necessarily be at a fast pace and action is not easily incorporated, the plot could have benefited from some liveliness and variation in character endeavors. In other words, 70% of The Road was slow, and many readers will not appreciate that and put it down. Patience is required.
For $7.99 on the Kindle, the buy is worth it! If no Kindle is on hand, the paperback edition would be most strongly recommended for the cheaper price. This does not live up to a $17.23 book; it's only 301 pages!
Overall, the book is not a fairy tale, and it will not paint a happy picture nor one that is even vaguely optimistic. The book is disheartening and bleak and will make you question your very existence, yet it was an irresistible page-turner and is recommended!
Touching, heartbreaking, often times harrowing, The Road will leave you terrified and amazed.