Saturday, September 11, 2010

"The Road" A Book Review

Thank you Ashley for following! It's always great to know someone else is reading!


This Blog post is a book review for The Road, by Cormack McCarthy, which was adapted into a film with Viggo Mortensen in November of '09. You may recognize the name No Country for Old Men, which is also a book by McCarthy; it to was adapted for film. Note: This review describes some rather graphic material, so if you don't do well with concentration camp stories or things of that nature, you might just wanna skip this one.

I remembered being very intrigued when the commercials for The Road started airing last fall. I really liked Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in Lord of The Rings and I have a fascination with post-apocalyptic stories, so it seems like the perfect fit for me. However, I was 15 and with the 'R' rating I wasn't gonna be seeing it anytime soon ( Yah for conservative Homeschoolers).

Anyhow, I was in the library a few weeks ago and passed by the 'for sale' shelf. There, right smack dab in the center of the display was The Road, with a $2 price sticker. I picked it up and sauntered over to the register.

Here is a review for that book:


The story is simple; a major catastrophe has decimated the earth (what that catastrophe is we are never told). The book follows a father and son as they struggle desperately for survival, trying to reach the coast. We are never told their names, they are simply the man and the boy; the child refers to his father as papa. We are never given a location for the story, nor are we told in which direction the coast lies.
The earth has been reduced to an ash strewn wasteland, there is no vegetation or wild-life, and massive clouds blot out the sun. The two must survive the elements and the marauding bands of cannibals. It is incredibly grim.


Good v. Evil: Through all of the desperate situations and the apparent hopelessness, the two just won't give up. The father tells his son that he must, “carry the fire.” He wants the boy to have hope in the midst of the darkness. The world is grown, both physically and spiritually dark, the father and son are a candle in the endless gloom. The boy has stronger morals than anyone else in the book, and always wants to help the people the encounter. He is also the only character who seems to have retained any belief in God. Everyone else believes humanity is forsaken.

Objectionable content: The book is realistic in the way it depicts human nature. It doesn't blink from showing us the worst of evils. The great shortage of food leads to extensive cannibalism and the rape of both woman and children comes up on several occasions. There are some pretty grotesque descriptions, including a dead baby being roasted and a cellar full of people waiting to be eaten. They huddle, naked, emaciated and terrified. The scene is reminiscent of a Nazi gas chamber. Suicide and sexual slavery also come up. The man has something terribly wrong with his lungs and coughs up blood on numerous occasions. The book also contains a good deal of profanity, much of which is the abuse of God's name. There is nothing over the top or theatrical about the content, but it is very, very graphic.

The writing is unlike any I've ever experienced. It is sparse, poetic and bleak. If McCarthy wrote a happy story I'd read it in a heart beat. I think The Road is the book Earnest Hemingway, George Orwell, and Edger Allen Poe would have written if they ever collaborated on a novel in the 21st century. The sparse approach carries over into the dialogue as well. The sentences are choppy. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to determine who's speaking. Every word communicates emotion; fear, anger, resignation etc. There is an odd cadence to the writing. Let me give you and example:

“He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core or parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true.” (Page 88-89)

I couldn't find a definition for the world “Parsible,” if anyone knows feel free to share. Now for a glimpse of the dialogue:

He'd put a handful of dried raisins in a cloth in his pocket and at noon they sat in the dead grass by the side of the road and ate them. The boy looked at him. That's all there is, isnt it? He said.
Are we going to die now?
What are we going to do?
We're going to drink some water. Then we're going to keep going down the road.
(Page 87-88)

There are no quotations and words like isn't don't even get an apostrophe. This guy's been writing for over forty years, so I don't think this can be chalked up to laziness or shoddy editing.

I appreciated the fact that the story contained moral dilemmas and not moral relativism. Here is what I mean. Cannibalism and rape are always presented as evil acts which only “the bad guys” commit. But this doesn't mean the two travelers aren't given moral quandaries. For example; The man considers killing the boy rather than allow him to be captured and eaten. What is the right choice here? We are left to ponder it along with the father.

Conclusion: This has got to be one of the strangest things I've read, it's certainly in the top three darkest, (as far as fiction goes) maybe the darkest. I won't say I enjoyed it, but It's not really meant to be entertainment. This is art.

Here we are shown the worst conceivable evils along with an unquenchable light. It is a wavering, sputtering flame with a wick reduced to little more than ash, yet it burns on. We see a biblical love played out, with the father being willing to sacrifice his life at every turn, that his child might live. The boy, has an even bigger heart, exuding compassion for every wretch they encounter.

Ultimately, I believe the novel does convey a biblical truth; love conquerors all. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will go so far as to call it 'hopeful.'

Thanks for reading!