Monday, March 21, 2011

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

The Road is one of those books that I knew I should get around to, but just never seemed to make its way into my reading rotation.  I knew that it was post-apocalyptic, which I enjoy.  I knew that McCarthy is a well-respected author, for good reason.   I was waiting to watch the movie until I read the book, and even that wasn't enough of a push.  Well, I finally got around to it, and now I know why I resisted.  I knew that the story was depressing as hell and it would suck me into its dark, ash-filled, cannibalistic world like a black hole sucks in light.

The story centers around a man and his son, wandering a world that is utterly dead.  While  this is obviously because of some man-made disaster, we never really learn what.  The man and his son have been wandering and scavenging for years, sometimes going days without finding anything to eat.  There are no animals, nothing grows-the earth is filled with ash and smoke and burned out cities.  They often have to hide from gangs of cannibals, looking for other survivors to hold captive and use as food.  Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, the man and his son keep traveling along the road, not really believing that things might be better on the coast, but unable to bow to the seeming inevitability of death. 

Here's the thing-despite the fact that at least once I was contemplating suicide on the characters' behalf, I loved this book.  The writing is genius.  I've never read any of McCarthy's books before, but if all of them have the same ability to convey with just a few words the enormity of life and love and death then I'll read them all.  I'm always in awe of authors who can choose exactly the right words to create a vivid picture for the reader-no more and no less.  Being rather verbose myself, I admire this ability.  I also admire the imagination that can come up with this kind of skewed reality in the first place.  Though it makes me wonder what kind of dark place McCarthy's mind is.

My one complaint-the ending.  Not that it is left completely open-ended.  I get that as a metaphor for life in general, and that as long as there is life the story is never over, everything is uncertain except for the passage of time, etc..In fact, my complaint is that the story should have ended about 10 pages sooner than it did, with the boy completely alone.  Now THAT would have been a head-scratcher, real food for thought, a book group discussion starter. Despite my feeling that he caved a little bit at the end, overall I am deeply affected by this book, and find myself thinking about it off and on in the days since I finished it.  What more can a book have to recommend it than that?

8 comments:

  1. I watched the film for the first time last weekend and was very impressed. I've only read one McCarthy novel, All the Pretty Horses and I enjoyed it. I must try The Road now.

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  2. Didn't read The Road, but "Blood Meridian" is in my all-time top 10. I read it in two sittings, in a complete haze. McCarthy is that good.

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  3. "Overall I am deeply affected by this book"

    Agreed. McCarthy's sparse words and vivid images are quintessential minimalist prose. If you check our oprah.com, the videos are on the for the only video interview Cormac has ever done, in his life. And man, he looks uncomfortable. But it's very good to see and you ought to google that one. Very interesting. The Road is a modern day classic, and although I love Cormac, his other books are excellent, but not quite as good. You have gone to Disney world, and Great America is just not going to live up to it. Thanks for your review.

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  4. Glad you enjoyed it. It's one of my favorite books. It's all very gloomy but somehow very compelling and beautifully written.

    I've read two of his Borders trilogy which is good too, but very different.

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  5. People do fall into two camps with this one - love it or hate it. I really didn't like it - si I always like to read the reviews of those that do

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  6. The Road has had a profound impact on my life. The ending, no spoilers here, was the saddest I have ever written. I was deeply moved (i.e. I cried).

    The Road showed me that a book about a dire subject, a frank and aw and real subject, can still be uplifting in its own way and should not be avoided on my reading list.

    The Road also taught me, as Heather mentions, that stark words written so eloquently can convey meaning that is deeper than the blackest rivers. The writing, like that of "night" by Elie Weisel, is bare to the point of raw, lacks punctuation, and yet conveys flavorful meaning in each morsel.

    Thank you

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  7. I have ever read. The saddest I have ever read. I only wish I wrote it!

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  8. p.s. If and when you read it a second time--which I did about 6 months after my first reading--it is even more powerful. It flowed more smoothly, and although I knew the ending, the journey was so powerfully written that is was poetry to me.

    If one enjoys this book, I strongly recommend watching oprah's interview with Mr. McCarthy on oprah.com where he discusses this book, his writing style, and it si very revealing. He has never given, and will likely never again give, a video interview, so it's worth seeing. Thanks Heather et al.

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