REVIEW: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

by sbh on Monday - 4 August 2008

in Reviews

I finally got around to reading Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. As difficult as it was to get through (I had to put it down at times because I was too horrified by its contents), I must say that this is a stunning work that demands to be read.

Unfortunately, I had to give my copy back, but I am sure that I will be picking up my own at some point so that I can re-read it again. As I write this, I must ask myself: “Why the heck would you re-read something so horrific?” Again, it demands to be read…

Set in some post-apocalyptic future Hell, The Road is the tale of a man and his child traveling south through the (nuclear?) winter to find warmer climes. From the outset, the mood is dark and foreboding. While an early flashback whispers of lost utopia, it is almost the only hint of normalcy that you’ll find in this taut page turner. Instead of focusing on paradise lost, McCarthy chooses to focus on the present. How do our travelers find food, shelter, warmth in their increasingly hostile environs?

As I said above, there are points in the story that literally made me feel sick. However, the grotesque is not here presented merely for the grotesque’s sake, but serves the larger whole:

  • (a) it shows us the ability of the human spirit to endure (though the reasons for this endurance vary and are questioned)
  • (b) it horrifies us, perhaps as a warning against allowing the state of things to slip into this sort of Hell

The style, at first, seems self-aware. McCarthy has eschewed grammatical conventions like normal paragraphs and punctuations. You won’t find any chapters in this novel either. Each scene bleeds into the next by the use of paragraphs offset from each other by a blank line. It’s difficult to read at first. Items flow together. You always have to think about who is speaking a given line (“he said” doesn’t mean much when the two main characters are nameless and male). By the middle portions of the novel, however, I forgot all about these quirks and eccentricities. Instead, I was just blazing through wondering what would happen next. It is to McCarthy’s credit that he abandoned grammatical conventions here. It slows us down a bit, which is a good thing, as The Road is meant to be savored and enjoyed. Still, it’s the sort of read that you’ll probably finish up in a couple of sittings.

Overall, The Road is a touching sort of buddy narrative unlike any other. The relationship between the father and child, the way they speak to each other, is at once real and foreign. For this relationship alone, and the ability of its narrative to keep you pressing forward, The Road is highly recommended. Yet, in its warnings and meditations on humanity, The Road becomes so much more.

Is this my favorite novel? Perhaps. I’d have to think about it…but it’s definitely way up there on the list.

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