Tuesday, March 1, 2011

REVIEW: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy follows an unnamed man and his son as they journey through a not too distant post-apocalyptic America. Their goal-survival and a vague plan of escaping their desolate surroundings by reaching the coast. What will they find there? They don't know but they're hoping it is something better than the existence they are living now. We follow them on their journey through the unforgiving terrain as they battle for their existence.

When I first put The Road down, I could not quite put my thoughts into words. I have stewed on it for a week and if I had to describe this novel it would be as follows:


Sparse, Intense

McCarthy's style has been described as minimalist. The sentence structure is very simplistic- even without flowery description and tons of time spent setting the scene he does a brilliant job of managing to convey the levity of the situation in which these characters find themselves. It still manages to be rather deep written this way. Readers may potentially be annoyed by his lack of quotation marks in conversations and other missing punctuation but it is a unique writing style and one I felt did not distract from the story too much. An example:

"He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."


Bleak, Harsh

Out of the post apocalyptic themed books I have read and movies I have watched this setting most closely resembles what I think earth would be like if a major catastrophe occurred. The earth is dying in this novel. Animals are gone, vegetation is slowly dying off, burnt out shells of buildings and completely abandoned towns are what remain. The world is a cold empty place. It was rather depressing but it felt realistic to me. I appreciated that the focus was on the man and boy and the landscape was in the background. It always kind of annoys me in books and movies when the destruction of major landmarks are used to try to pump up the story. McCarthy didn't bother to tell how the earth came to be this way or have the characters wandering past a pile of rubble that used to be the White House. He just let the man and boy react to the barrenness of it all. As a reader I felt I related more because this could have been any road in America they were headed down while travelling toward the sea.


Valiant, Desperate

They aren't given names. They are just the man and the boy. Even after this disaster the man's number one priority is the child. Everything he does is in the best interest of the son. There is a lot of love in this book even if the overall theme is the hopelessness of it all. He is still invested in teaching his son values and "carrying the fire" because they're the "good guys". I found it sad that the man loses his compassion for his fellow man in some parts and a few of his actions show he is by no means perfect but he is balanced pretty well by the innocence of the boy. You can feel the anguish of the father because he has a clear picture of what he is up against. I liked that the man and the boy and kept hoping even through all the despair that there would be a happy ending for them. I often thought of how I would react if I were in a similar situation and don't know if I would be able to keep the faith. I can't even imagine how I would answer if my child asked me if he was going to die from starvation. This book was heartbreaking at times.


Horror, Sadness, Anxiety

There are some pretty gruesome scenes in this book. I think the author's intent wasn't to gross anyone out but to make the point that if faced with a situation like this it will change people and humans will do what they need to to survive.....WHATEVER they need to. This was a depressing read. There is no light at the end of the tunnel here. You know things aren't suddenly going to be sunshine and rainbows. This book was upsetting to me because a) I formed an attachment to the father and son and wanted a happy ending even though I knew it wouldn't happen and b) this scenario could really happen. God forbid it could even happen in my lifetime and the end of the world as we know it is not something I want to dwell on but this book definitely had me thinking about it. This is where the anxiety comes in. I really hope I'm long dead before something like this really does happen.

I can't say I enjoyed this novel as it would not be the right word given the subject matter. I can say I appreciated it. I thought it was well written and it is one that will stay with me for awhile. Some may not be partial to his writing style but Mr. McCarthy has a new fan in me.

I also wanted to mention this just in case I really wasn't the last person on the planet to read this book- it was made into a movie in 2009 starring Viggo Mortenson. I saw the movie before I read the book and it was excellent, one of those few that defies the "the book is always better than the movie" affirmation. The movie was just as good. If you don't believe me watch the trailer below :)

This book is from my own personal library


  1. Great review! I totally agree with you about the book and the movie. The book was one of my top ten favorites in 2009.

  2. I agree, this book is stark, depressing and induces anxiety, but is such a perfect portrayal of what the end of the earth might be like, and what would happen to humans, how they might keep their tenuous grip on their humanity in this situation. It's a beautiful meditation on the influence of children and their innocence on adults. I've not yet seen the film and want to, although I'm a bit nervous about watching it - sometimes I find it easier to read a scene than actually watch it!

  3. Great review! I love 'The Road' and as you mentioned, I was a little annoyed by the lack of punctuation at first. However, I feel that the sparse nature of the writing is a perfect tool to add to the sparse landscape, in which the writer is trying to portray. It's an amazing book, even though it's quite depressing.

  4. I loved the way your review was put in to sections, really great lay-out!
    I read this book a few years ago and really liked it. To me the book speaks loudly about the love between the boy and his dad. What I felt the author conveyed was that when all is gone it is love that is lasting and most important. The author pealed off all the layers of those things we think is needed, it is love that is most important.