Cormac McCarthy – The Road
104. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Read by Tom Stechshulte
Length: 6h 41m (287 pages)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Started: 10 October 2007
Finished: 19 October 2007
Summary: A man and his son must struggle to survive in post-apocalyptic America, gleaning gas, tools, clothes, and food from the relics of abandoned civilization. They are heading southward along the road, fleeing the cold of winter, and avoiding other people, the best of whom will steal their supplies and the worst of whom have turned to cannibalism.
Review: I didn’t dislike this book, but I think it’s pretty overrated. I don’t think I’m particularly pessimistic, but I fail to draw any message of hope from this book. I can see how McCarthy’s trying to push that idea of hope, and love, and saving the good parts of the human soul in the face of unmitigated bleakness, but in this case, it’s just not enough. The bleakness is too unmitigated. In other survival stories, post-apocalyptic and otherwise, there’s almost always the possibility that things could get better. In McCarthy’s world, however, nothing is going to get better. There are no living plants, few-to-no living animals other than the straggling handful of humans. The apocalypse didn’t just wipe out human civilization, it wiped out the basic support system for the maintenance of human life. Even if the boy is “carrying the fire” and maintaining hope and goodness in the face of disaster, eventually, there will be no more miraculous caches of canned peaches, and they’re all going to die, inner fire or not. I have a harder time seeing the father-son bond as moving, the father living for the sake of the son, when I can’t stop considering the only possible future that he’s saving him for.
The writing was clever – overly preciously clever in parts, I thought. It also used the Annie Proulx-ian device of inserting strings of phrases (“Cold ash on the ground. Grey light overhead.”) in lieu of actual prose, which gets on my nerves really quickly (not so badly here as in The Shipping News, but I certainly noticed it.) I listened to this in audiobook format, which is probably all for the best, as I think the lack of punctuation and delineated dialogue would have driven me crazy long before the end of the printed book. McCarthy does do an excellent job of painting a vivid and memorable world for his characters to move through, but it was too unrelentingly bleak for me… if his characters are doomed no matter what, why should I get emotionally invested in them? 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Not a bad book, and short enough that I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time in reading it, but overrated and not something I particularly enjoyed or would recommend.