The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Copyright 2006 by M-71, Ltd.
Publisher: Vintage International
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used
Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author
This is, by far, the longest book that I’ve read in a single sitting. I am normally a start-and-stop sort of reader and tend to take two to three days to get through a book. I found, though, that I couldn’t put The Road down. It is also the only book to every make my eyes water…notice I don’t use the c-word here. I’m quite sure it’s just because my eyes were getting tired by the end of the book. 😉
At the outset, I found myself rolling my eyes just a little, because I didn’t realize this was a dystopian story when I picked it up and I am NOT a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction at all! Why did I pick up then? I picked it up because I was perusing the used bookshop and when I saw the name Cormac McCarthy, something registered in my brain saying ‘this is a good book.’ I’m thrilled that I didn’t read the blurb when I picked it up, because I never would have purchased it and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read a book that I am pretty certain is going to be added to my all time favourites. I understand entirely why Cormac McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for this one.
A father and son make their way south across the barren wasteland that was once the United States. There is nowhere safe anymore; there is nobody to trust. The winter is nearly upon them and, with supplies running low, their only hope is to make it to the coast where, hopefully, they will find a slightly warmer climate and fewer dangers. Every day they trudge on, seeking food, seeking shelter and seeking to avoid any other living creatures. Ailing, the man begins to wonder how much longer he will have to take care of his son, who could not survive a day on his own. As each new day presents an ever bleaker future, and with only two bullets remaining in his gun, will he have the courage to do what he must when they can no longer go on?
The reason I don’t usually like dystopian fiction is because I find that it wavers too close to regular science fiction. I have said before that I need my reads to come with a heavy dose of reality. I always imagine dystopian novels degenerating into an orgy of zombies, aliens and giant man-eating squirrels. This wasn’t anything like that; everything in the story stayed within the confines of reality. McCarthy manages to avoid a lot of the potential deal busters in that regard by simply not talking about them. At the end of the story we still had no idea what catastrophe led to the bleak situation on Earth and that wasn’t a problem for me. Because this wasn’t a tale of post-apocalyptic America, it was a very dark tale of the bonds of family and the power of love, begging us to ponder just what we would do, and how far we would go, for the people we love the most. When we die, we worry about those we leave behind, but know that they will be cared for by others. How do you leave someone behind in a world in which there is no good?
“On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?” The Road, page 32.
That quote comprises a complete paragraph in The Road. There were frequently sections in the book in which several paragraphs like this appeared out of nowhere. They are most often short philosophical ponderances, remnants of dreams, or snippets of fading memories. Always, they are reminders that this is a very, very dark tale. These unannounced tidbits at first led me to feel that the story was quite disjointed, but as I worked through the pages I found those pieces became less distracting and more informative. They fill us in on missing details from the characters’ past or give us a tiny glimpse of the Earth before.
There are no chapters or breaks of any kind throughout the story and there are no long paragraphs. Occasionally there were some that would last a page or two, but for the most part, each page had several shorter paragraphs and this helped the plot to move along quickly and prevent any aspects of the story from becoming too mundane. It is also, perhaps, the reason I read the entire book in a single sitting; I found myself constantly saying, “just one more paragraph.” I thirsted for more of McCarthy’s words. He paints some vivid pictures with his prose, but without making the work overly literary.
“The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes.” The Road, page 181.
Honest to goodness, I can’t think of a single detail that I disliked about this novel and can think of no reason anyone else wouldn’t enjoy it.