Book Journal: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

A man and his son struggle to survive in a violent and barren post-apocalyptic world. They scavenge for food and shelter, hide from predators, and journey south to beat the winter and their impending deaths.

Some themes at play within the novel: trust, hunger, fear, significance of dreams, cannibalism, violence, love, hope

Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
It took me nearly 100 pages to realize I actually like this novel. The book starts off with dreary descriptions of their ever-fearful walks along the Road and their time hiding and scavenging in the wooden wasteland. It was hard to get used to the lack of conversational quotation marks. No one gets a name. Everything is the man said, the boy said, he said, he said, he said. Too many he saids. The dialogue is very sparse and repetitive: Are we going to be okay? It’s alright. We’ll be alright. Don’t ever leave me. I’m scared. It’s alright. I’m right here. Nothing even happens until page 63. And yet…

I really do like this book. I acutely felt the isolation, the desperation, the desolation… honestly, the book down-right depressed me. The world is gray and ashy and utterly hopeless. There is no food anywhere, and they are constantly on the brink of starvation. The only people the man and boy come in contact with are murderous rapist cannibals. Every human encounter they had sent chills of terror through me. This book is subtle and incredibly horrifying all at the same time.

There isn’t much of a set-up as to how this world has ended; there’s just one ambiguous mention of widespread firestorms that happen out of seemingly nowhere. For a long time, the lack of explanation bothered me; I like to know why. But eventually I asked myself, does it really matter how the world ended up like this? It’s been years since the apocalypse hit, and all that matters is how people survive. In this case, all that’s left of humanity is a depraved group of slavers and rapists. Fear and hunger and mob mentalities make people do horrible things to each other. The story didn’t let me doubt that reality for one second.

A powerful and disturbing element of the story is the father’s morbid rationalization of suicide and murder-suicide. Whenever he fears that they are discovered and that his son will be taken (to be raped and eaten), he contemplates killing his son out of kindness and then himself because his son is his only reason for living. The sheer force of that blew me away. Reading this book is like a form of self-abuse, since I always take what I read to heart. [Side note: interesting article I read on what I now know is called reader’s transference.]

If the story was nothing but violence and death, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but there are just enough profound and moving moments for me to appreciate just how brilliant the novel is. The son, experienced yet still very innocent, wants nothing more than to find people and help them, “Because we are the good guys. And we’re carrying the fire.” Even when a man robs them of all their food and clothing while they are bathing, the boy cries when his father catches him and makes the thief strip to leave him as bare as the thief left them. The man explains to his son that by taking the thief’s clothes, he only did to the thief what the thief did to them: “I wasn’t going to kill him … after a while the boy said: But we did kill him.”

The ending is tragic yet somewhat hopeful. Hopeful enough that I didn’t curse the day I decided to pick up the book. It’s not a favorite of mine, but I can see why it won a Pulitzer, and though I was very skeptical in the beginning, I’m glad I pushed through and finished it, heavy heart and all.

Favorite Quotes:
“Just remember the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that. … You forget some things, don’t you? … Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget” (12).

“He mistrusted all that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death” (18).

“They lay listening. Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesn’t fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be? Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. Pull him toward you. Kiss him. Quickly.” (114).

“He thought about each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not” (131).

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication:  Paperback, First Vintage International Edition, 2006
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, Dystopian, Survival
ISBN: 978-0-307-38789-9

No comments :

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...