Literacy 2008: Book 1: The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Selling Points
Oprah liked it! (And it won a Pulitzer Prize, too.) But look! Oprah!

I tried to be open-minded and objective while I was reading this book, but I was definitely prejudiced against it from the start, because of all the hype and because of how much I disliked the No Country for Old Men movie. Also, I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories in general.

Ash cold gray ashes the man the boy dark scared okay fire. Repeat for 300 pages.

Quick and pretty easy to read. Excellent pacing, conveying long stretches of unchanging tedium punctuated by unexpected terror. Dialogue between the boy and his father seems genuine. Aggressively literate, with occasional descriptions that are surprisingly vivid. Subtly flows between gray reality and the dreams and memories of the main character using stylistic changes from terse and straightforward to nightmarish and verbose.

By “verbose” I mean it’s often self-consciously over-written. Sometimes feels sabotaged by passages of vapid nihilism, or a wordy but empty description. As a result, it often feels like someone writing with a thesaurus open, as if the author didn’t trust his honest, genuine message not to come across as trite or maudlin unless it were padded with “edge” or “literary merit.” As much as I liked the book’s ending, it was like a stunt pilot pulling out of a 270-page nose dive right before the moment of impact. I still can’t tell if the sections that struck me as pointlessly cynical were momentary lapses of the narrator’s character, or if they’re the author’s genuine attempts to make a point.

Ultimately a masterfully written, honest story of fatherhood and allegory about morality. It creates a powerful image of “goodness” as a force that simply exists — independent of religion, society, privilege, or even sustenance — and survives, despite any attempts to extinguish it. I just wish it didn’t keep making me think, “So this is what it would be like if Larry McMurtry had grown up as a goth kid.”

0 thoughts on “Literacy 2008: Book 1: The Road”

  1. I listened to a podcast review of this book by persons unknown and the group of reviewers were divided on the writing style. Two of the reviewers thought it was a little tedious at first, but they soon grew attached to it as a device. The third reviewer hated the writing style from start to finish and, if i remember, wasn’t terribly fond of the book.

    I do like apocalyptic novels because I think they are so extreme as to be essentially parables. And I really like parables. But man, you know, I need to stop reading all this depressing stuff too.

  2. This one definitely qualifies as parable, one of my problems is that the message (or at least what I think the message is) doesn’t really materialize until the last 10 pages or so. Even as short as it is, I felt like I was reading the book tapping my foot and looking at my watch. “You got a point here, or are we just going to get another few pages of ash? Ah. Ash it is.”

    While it’s pretty apparent what the style is doing as a device, it’s still annoyingly self-conscious in places, and you wish he’d just get over his aversion to punctuation already.

    But every comment I’ve ever read about the book points out how depressing it is, and I didn’t think it was ultimately depressing. That’s probably just because I entirely disagree with the pointless nihilism and cynicism of most of the book, and I never felt like any of it was real.

  3. Well, *I* didn’t wish he’d get over his aversion to punctuation. Just to clarify.

    And I didn’t think it was pointlessly nihilistic or cynical either. I think the ending negates that interpretation of the book.

    I loved it. A lot. That probably has a lot to do with my intense fondness for post-apocalyptic stories, of which I’ve read a lot (and watched a lot). But this one was the first I’ve read to bring up the horrible notion about what
    people really would have to do if all animal and plant life was gone for good. Holy crap! I mean, forget any literary pretensions the book may have, that’s some pretty good horror stuff right there.

    So maybe that’s why I liked it so much. Not because it was brilliantly written, or incredibly deep (although at heart I kind of think it is) but because it told a really good, creepy, horrific story.

    Also, I don’t think any other book I’ve ever read has made me cry because a character in it found a can of peaches. So there’s that.

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