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.”