The Road – a review

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 A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. The Road boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

As I prepare myself for the next re-write of Gossamer Flames, my post-apocalyptic series of interconnected tales, I continue looking for similar fiction to read, not just to see how the best fiction works, but for the details about how the world is affected and how people react.

When I read and reviewed the anthology “Prep for Doom”, I said, “As to my own post-apocalyptic saga, I feel there are lessons to learn and I will attempt to embrace them.”

I knew that the next read would be “far bleaker and darker… like grey ash”, and it was, but here is my full review of ‘The Road’ by  Cormac McCarthy.

“Bleak, tragic, moving and poetic,” was my immediate reaction when I finished “The Road”, a novel that has divided readers.

My initial reaction to the early pages was driven by my inner editor as a writer – why such sparse punctuation? Why no quote marks? Why no speech tags?

“What is it?
Nothing. I had a bad dream.
What did you dream about?
Nothing.
Are you okay?
No.
He put his arms around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.
I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
I’m sorry. I was just so tired.
I meant in the dream.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

Then my mind focused on the words themselves. The way that Cormac McCarthy used them to weave the tale. Not like in commercial fiction, but more like a storyteller around a campfire. For me, the phrases evoked images and feelings. Many of them stood out for me, so here is an example.

“The nights were blinding cold and casket black and the long reach of the morning had a terrible silence to it.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

The novel is bleak but then this is a dying world where little survives. Passages might seem repetitive but then the ash shrouded landscape is endless. Endless like the road itself to the man and the boy, to the reader travelling with them.

“He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then the distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline.
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

It’s not just these two characters “carrying the fire” that keeps being mentioned strategically. I trudged along with them, mourning the lost world as the man remember the past, the things lost and destroyed.

“Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

While the devastated world is bleak and monotonous in some respects, McCarthy captures the man’s memories of the past in wonderful passages that evoke the lost wonder of life and nature. These contrast well with the dying world.

Yet the novel has been heavily criticised, not just for the grammar but also the empty plot. Amazingly the reviewers go to great lengths to described what they didn’t like. Some even ape the author’s style in their reviews, but in that they fail. The criticisms vary from the lack of ‘few concrete details’ about the disaster and the world, to “McCarthy didn’t do it purposefully, he just writes in an ostentatiously empty style which is safe and convenient to praise.” To me that misses the crux of the novel, the tragedy of this dying world.

I know that fans of the apocalyptic genre and science fiction expected something different, and some were even confused about the cause of the apocalypse. However, I understood that the world had been devastated by nuclear war and the constant snow was a sign of a nuclear winter. The details were sparse but enough to help me realise what I was reading about. A reader has to invest some effort, I feel.

Knowing about this negative feeling, I tried to dislike the novel but failed. The title said so much. This was a road-story in a bleak world, where surviving from day to day requires a dream. There is plenty of conflict, not least with death and fear. I kept reading, hoping that there was a light at the end, just as the man and the boy have the sea as one of their concrete goals.

For me there was hope and in part that was ‘the fire’ carried by these forlorn travellers. Someone has to ensure that love for humanity is handed on when the world is ready. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one.

So have you read “The Road? What did you think? A masterpiece or garbage?

Would you give it a try?

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4 thoughts on “The Road – a review

  1. Sounds like a decent book! Great post! I just made my summer reading list which I posted on my page. What are you planning to read next? Looking forward to talking books with ya:)

  2. I’ve been meaning to read “The Road” for a long time. I remember flipping through it and seeing the lack of quotation marks and questioning it. I’ve read other books like it, though: A Million Little Pieces. And I actually enjoyed it. For the type of book, that style worked well.

    • Never read A Million Little Piece so checking it out. I feel that you have to switch reader brains when faced with this kind of book. You can’t judge it by commercial fiction rules. Glad to see that you are open to that style 🙂

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