The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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The Road: Summary by Goodreads

A searing, post apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

My Review:

This book the bleakest book I’ve ever read. But, it worked. It worked in a way I don’t exactly know how to explain. Right off the bat, the moment I read the first page of this book, I realized that The Road‘s dialogue was written without quotation marks. Also, McCarthy chooses not to use punctuation for conjugations (wouldn’t–>wouldnt). Although I found this strange and confusing at first, I realized that it was all to add on to the grey tone of the story. Without quotation marks and the clean changing of speakers, it often gets confusing to tell who’s speaking. However, McCarthy chooses to forego usually mandatory punctuation to make a strong statement. He states that it does not necessarily matter who is speaking; all that matters is the emotion shared between the characters as well as the consistent urge to move forward and survive. McCarthy makes sure that not even one word in this book is extraneous; literally every single word or phrase counts. I find this to be a fresh breath of air. The sparse and choppy language of the book effectively reflects the barrenness of the world around the boy and the man. Going along the theme of simplicity, McCarthy’s two main characters, the man and his son, share very minimal words. But when they do share words, it’s about feeling scared, reassuring themselves with each other’s presences, or about survival. To some, their dialogue may feel repetitive and dull, but to me, it felt so real. It was so raw in the fact that the words were only used to express desperation;  McCarthy did it so well that I appreciated the dull dialogue. “Papa, I’m scared,” and “I’m okay,” is probably over half of the dialogue in this book, but I appreciate that. This completely changes the dynamic of the book by letting the reader know that the road that they take is not a journey; it’s survival and merely existing for each other.

I found McCarthy’s beautiful imagery to be unexpected, but fitting to this story. It adds another side of this raw story. Although I enjoy when he uses his extraordinary choice of words to paint a broken world, I love it when he uses it instead to paint the world that came before the brokenness. In my mind, due to this, this book is both rainbow as well as it is grey. McCarthy’s book is not a book that focuses on the plot and the diversity of characters; its solely about the raw emotion of the desperate characters as well as the painting of an absolutely broken world.

I found the two main (and basically only) characters in this book, the man and his son, to be extremely interesting. The man’s role in the story is simply to protect his son with his life. He knows the bliss of the old world before destruction, and dreams to die; to escape from suffering. But, he lives on, only for his son. His mysterious past is never revealed, but is hinted with flashbacks. These flashbacks shine all the more due to the absurdity of the idea of a happy life in the midst of a dying world. The man is brutal, but he only does that to protect his son. He goes unimaginable lengths to keep his son safe–even if it means killing him painlessly before anyone can hurt him. His son is his only light, but he doesn’t realize how much he means to his son’s survival. In some ways, he is selfish in only caring about his own desires to save the boy. Meanwhile, the son is filled with goodness. That’s all he is: goodness. McCarthy presents him as a miracle in a world only full of evil. The boy, unlike his father, is sensitive and compassionate. It is only through the boy, that the man keeps a good heart. However, the thing I found the most sad throughout the book is the changing of the son. At first, he starts off as a pure, good, child. But, as the story progresses and the man is continually (but unknowingly) training him to be brutal, the boy changes. He becomes hardened in a way, but is still kind. At one point, the son and the man’s role seems to be reversed. And I would like to mention, in my opinion, a very important character in this book: the man struck by lightning. The old man also travels the road to survival in hopes of, well, surviving. He highlights the sadness and helplessness that comes from traveling the road, which is the only hope that exists in this world.

The plot, in my opinion, was not a very special one. When looking at the plot only, this book is a post-apocalyptic story. However, this book is so much more than that. That just shows to how little the plot adds to the book. Although the plot is ultimately what leads the man and his son to their interactions and carries the story, it is only a pushing force to keep the story going in a direction. I feel like this book was more about the bleakness of a broken world where desperation and love is the only thing that keeps people going. In the novel, a gun is portrayed as a thing of relief; death is portrayed as bliss. The plot, to be honest, doesn’t go anywhere. The story takes place in the same postapocalyptic survival plot over the span of the whole book.

And lastly, the ending of the book, I feel like, was phenomenal. McCarthy no longer writes this book as if it does not relate to us at all (ignoring the occasional themes of love). The often repeated phrase–
“carrying the fire”–is the reason that the man and boy continue on living. The man teaches the boy to carry the fire for us all, and is the most important survivor in that shattered world, because he bears the torch of love for humanity to share when it is again ready. Although this was a very long review–probably the longest one I will ever write–this book deserved it. Honestly, I can’t give it anything less than a 5/5👍. It was absolutely amazing in every aspect. Although I wouldn’t call it an entertaining book, I feel like this book was more than just entertaining.

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4 thoughts on “The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. judiththereader says:

    I completely agree with your points about his writing style. And whilst you don’t think the plot is a special one, I’d disagree. True, not much happens in term of action, and that really does emphasise the bleakness of life.

    However, I feel like most dystopian / apocalyptic fiction nowadays has to be written in the midst of a zombie take-over or the Hunger Games to get across action and excitement. The Road, on the other hand, just takes real life, the real world, and makes it completely crumble apart. It’s a very special story in the way that it focusses in on just two characters – characters we don’t even know the names of – and watch how their lives have fallen apart over time. A truly bleak, but interesting take on apocalyptic fiction. 🙂

    https://readandreview2016.wordpress.com/

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