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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
McCarthy's latest novel, a frightening apocalyptic vision, is narrated by a nameless man, one of the few survivors of an unspecified civilization-ending catastrophe. He and his young son are trekking along a treacherous highway, starving and freezing, trying to avoid roving cannibal armies. The tale, and their lives, are saved from teetering over the edge of bleakness thanks to the man's fierce belief that they are "the good guys" who are preserving the light of humanity. In this stark, effective production, Stechschulte gives the father an appropriately harsh, weary voice that sways little from its numbed register except to urge on the weakening boy or soothe his fears after an encounter with barbarians. When they uncover some vestige of the former world, the man recalls its vanished wonder with an aching nostalgia that makes the listener's heart swell. Stechschulte portrays the son with a mournful, slightly breathy tone that emphasizes the child's whininess, making him much less sympathetic than his resourceful father. With no music or effects interrupting Stechschulte's carefully measured pace and gruff, straightforward delivery, McCarthy's darkly poetic prose comes alive in a way that will transfix listeners.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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"...
I'm a father. I read The Road years ago when my son was nine. I honestly had no idea at the time that I was picking up a book about a father and his roughly nine year old son. That's not a spoiler, you find that out on the first page.
Look, Cormac McCarthy writes so well I actually come back to his books on my shelves and open them up randomly, just to read a page and soothe my brain. But he digs the knife in so deep. I've actually hesitated to review his books before because there is so much beauty in the writing I just don't have the first ability to get a sense of it across.
More than that. I actually resented him after finishing this book. I wanted to shake his hand and punch him in the face. Maybe that's why I waited so long to finally admit this book deserves any accolade I could give it.
I finished The Road while sitting on a plane in Hong Kong, waiting to take off in the rain. I was a grown man, struggling so hard not to sob out loud that I started to choke. You might want to try "All the Pretty Horses" first, or even "No Country for Old Men," but those will grip you, too. I've never seen the man pull a punch. I think it also might depend where you are in your life. Just take my advice, if you're a father and you have a young boy, hold off on this, or at least read it when no one is around.
I read the book very slowly - in fact, the way its written, you are forced to slowly swallow and linger on the words McCarthy uses - and that leads to terrifying dread for the characters in the book. I had to read it in a day because I simply wanted it to end. Reading this story is like walking on the edge of a cliff. It is tense, the imagery at times is shocking, and the small, beautiful human relationship between father and son is something you want to preserve as long as you can in the bleak world that McCarthy has created, a bleak world that is completely realistic.
The moral question for me in this story is, if there is no beauty, no hope and not even a semblance of human love left on this Earth, and every day is a day that can bring perilous, brutal, gut wrenching violence on you and your loved ones, is it better to continue on Earth or is simply better to take your life and the ones you love? I have to admit that throughout points in this book, I was hoping that the characters would take their own lives. That McCarthy was able to pose this question in such a realistic and cold world is a compliment to his talent.
I am a chicken when it comes to seeing movies or reading stories where there is disturbing violence committed on innocents. As such, I carefully started this book but for those like me, do not hesitate. Read this story.