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Cormac McCarthy – The Road

October 19, 2007

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.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2010 10:20 am

    It’s really interesting hearing your views on this book, having read and reviewed this myself. I personally really enjoyed this book, but do agree with you about the lack of punctuation. It drove me crazy!

    I also think that although the landscape in which the characters are moving in is desolate and bleak, the writer manages to put a great contrast between light and shade within the novel and texture, which I found particularly interesting. Although if you compare the novel to the hype that it’s received, then I would agree it is a tad overated.

    Overall though, I do agree that this isn’t the most happy of novels, but I still enjoyed it. Thanks for the review, it’s always interesting to read the views of people, who have read the same books as I have!

    • August 18, 2010 11:07 am

      Karen – I read this novel a few years ago, when it was a recent Oprah book pick, and the hype seemed much more out of control than it is now. I wonder whether I’d feel differently about it if I’d read it after the hype had died down a little.

      • August 18, 2010 11:51 am

        Yes sometimes our opinions are swayed, for or against a book, by how much hype it receives. So it would be interesting, seeing as there is a considerable amount of time between the time that you first read it, to read it again, to see if your opinions on the novel have changed or not.

        I’m doing the same with ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ at the moment. It has been many years since I first read this novel and I wanted to see if it has the same impact as it did before.

  2. August 15, 2010 10:56 am

    Thanks for your great review. I don’t think this book is for me, so I’ll probably skip it.

  3. She permalink
    August 15, 2010 11:54 am

    I really liked this book up until the end. I just found it to be a little bit too much and a bit of a let down– it was just too metaphorical for me, I suppose.

    I do think the novel has shock value that initially attracts one to it, but for me, it failed to deliver at the end. Ultimately I enjoyed it, but it would have been much better had the end been different.

    • August 18, 2010 11:15 am

      She – It’s been long enough that I barely remember the ending, but I do remember yelling something along the lines of “EVENTUALLY YOU WILL RUN OUT OF CANNED PEACHES, IDIOTS.”

  4. August 15, 2010 12:40 pm

    I haven’t read this book and don’t know if I plan too. I think that I might be underwhelmed do to all of the hype.

    • August 18, 2010 11:16 am

      christina – Yeah, I don’t regret reading it, but I think I would be an equally happy person if it had never crossed my path.

  5. August 17, 2010 7:45 am

    So you and Nicholas Sparks are in accord, then? :p

    • August 18, 2010 11:16 am

      Jenny – We are? Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything. :)

  6. August 19, 2010 8:38 am

    I honestly don’t think it will live up to the hype that I’ve heard about it so I haven’t given it a shot.

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