Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a book I felt a little torn over. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I couldn’t help but feel that it sort of disappears up it’s own a**hole in certain places. The book tells the story of a father and son, traveling across the former United States after a nuclear holocaust. On their way, the two face roving bands of cannibals, starvation and sickness.
(**mild spoilers follow)
If nothing else, McCarthy knows how to paint a picture. While reading, you have no problem imagining the world in which these characters live, and what’s more, you’re afraid of it. You move through the burned out cities, see the dead bodies, smell the ash that blankets everything. When the father and son find a cellar full of people who are being kept as livestock and slowly eaten, you feel the same revulsion and fear they feel. That’s not something you get with every book you read and was probably what I liked most about this one.
You also get a sense of how much the father loves his son. Everything he does in the book it to protect him, from scavenging for food to traveling with a small pistol loaded with only two shells — one for him, one for the boy. I thought this added a lot to the story, although it didn’t touch me the same way it did other reviewers.
There were two problems I felt the book had. One was that there were very few details given about whatever catastrophe the world had suffered through. Whatever it was, it was huge. A blanket of ash covers everything, animals are dead, very few people are left and allusions are made to this being the case all over the world. Whenever the father is asked about what happened, he says he doesn’t really know. Really? You don’t know? I understand that there are certain things an author won’t illuminate for this or that reason. And it’s good to not give an explanation for every little thing. I think a reader should have to put forth a little effort and come up with their own answers. But with something this big, where the entire planet has been affected, and people are eating other people just to stay alive, dropping one or two hints wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.
One more thing that didn’t strike the right chord with me was the almost maniacal intensity in which the characters are presented. Specifically the father and his dead wife (shown only in flashbacks). While explaining to her husband why she’s decided to kill herself, the protagonist’s wife says, “My only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.” It’s difficult to take people who are so over the top like that seriously, and I find them more annoying than anything else. It’s a bias that might be unjustified in this situation, but it’s the first thing that came to mind when I read it. The father’s mortality and that of his son is foremost on his mind throughout the book, and he does his share of philosophizing on the subject, but when he starts talking about someone who’s coming to take his eyes and fill his mouth with dirt, I felt that it stopped making sense.
Last year, the Coen Brothers did a fantastic job adapting No Country For Old Men, and The Road is another of McCarthy’s works that I believe will lend itself well to the big screen. The film version is due out on November 26 of this year, with Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee set to play the father and son.
Despite a few flaws, The Road is an incredibly engrossing read from one of the great writers of our time. If you’re a fan of McCarthy, you’ll definitely like this one. Those who have never read him will enjoy this one anyway.
7.5 out of 10 stars
Buy the book at amazon.com.