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The Road Paperback – March 28, 2007
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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
"His tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful. It might very well be the best book of the year, period." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Vivid, eloquent . . . The Road is the most readable of [McCarthy's] works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization." —The New York Times Book Review
"One of McCarthy's best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal." —Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Illuminated by extraordinary tenderness. . . . Simple yet mysterious, simultaneously cryptic and crystal clear. The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be." —The New York Times
"No American writer since Faulkner has wandered so willingly into the swamp waters of deviltry and redemption. . . . [McCarthy] has written this last waltz with enough elegant reserve to capture what matters most." —The Boston Globe
"There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull . . . making [The Road] easily one of the most harrowing books you'll ever encounter. . . . Once opened, [it is] nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive. . . . The Road is a deeply imagined work and harrowing no matter what your politics." —Bookforum
"We find this violent, grotesque world rendered in gorgeous, melancholic, even biblical cadences. . . . Few books can do more; few have done better. Read this book." —Rocky Mountain News
"A dark book that glows with the intensity of [McCarthy's] huge gift for language. . . . Why read this? . . . Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness." —Chicago Tribune
"The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written."
—The Christian Science Monitor
"The Road is a wildly powerful and disturbing book that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster has never felt more physically and spiritually real." —Time
"The Road is the logical culmination of everything [McCarthy]'s written." —Newsweek
"It's hard to think of [an apocalypse tale] as beautifully, hauntingly constructed as this one. McCarthy possesses a massive, Biblical vocabulary and he unleashes it in this book with painterly effect. . . . The Road takes him to a whole new level. . . . It will grip even the coldest human heart." —The Star-Ledger (Newark)
"McCarthy is a gutsy, powerful storyteller. . . . The writing throughout is magnificent." —Chicago Sun-Times
"Devastating. . . . McCarthy has never seemed more at home, more eloquent, than in the sere, postapocalyptic ash land of The Road. . . . Extraordinarily lovely and sad. . . . [A] masterpiece." —Entertainment Weekly
"His most compelling, moving and accessible novel since All the Pretty Horses. . . . McCarthy brilliantly captures the knife edge that fugitives in a hostile world stand on. . . . Amid this Godot-like bleakness, McCarthy shares something vital and enduring about the boy's spirit, his father's love and the nature of bravery itself." —USA Today
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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"...
Also, McCarthy loads his book with either short abrupt sentences without verbs, or lengthy run-ons with an "and" every ten words. It's as if a comma raped him as a child and he vowed never to use them again. Again, you might consider burning the book, only to stick with it.
And you totally should stick with it, because it's an absolutely horrifying tale with amazing imagery and beautifully combined words to craft incomparable descriptions. It strips humanity bare, revealing what few values still matter: Family and Survival. For some, the former takes precedence. Others care only about the latter.
While the themes aren't particularly new, things like "what is goodness" and the loss of innocence, it's the way McCarthy puts them to the ultimate tests, pushes them to their farthest boundaries, that makes the book so compelling.