The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The RoadTakeaway: Subject matter and writing style and content do not always match.  Odd to hear tragic, violent and heart rending action in such beautiful prose.

I am clearly following popularity when I read Cormac McCarthy.  I had not read him before I watched No Country for Old Men.  I then listen to the book as an Audiobook.

The Road has the same narrator, but the southwestern rural drawl did not seem to fit the character quite as well.  But it grew on me.

What I like so much about McCarthy’s writing is the lyric (almost poetic) descriptions of the narrative.

He is beautiful to listen to, even as the incredibly tragic or violent actions are happening.

Half way through the book I tweeted that I loved the book, but it was so very tragic it was hard to read.  A couple people responded that they had not made it through the book because the content was so tragic and difficult to read.

But I did make it through.  I kept waiting for another shoe to drop.  The story has an un-named father and son making their way from the middle of the country to the coast, on foot, after some apocalyptic event.  The world is covered in ash and the sun is never seen.  Most of the people in the world and virtually all of the animal life are dead.  Roving bands of marauders and cannibalism are common because of a sheer lack of food.

Throughout the book there is no reason for the apocalypse.  But it happened immediately before the boys birth.  My guess, because it is never said, is that the boy is around 10.  The boy has no memory of a world that is not covered in ash and full of people that want to kill you out of fear or hunger.

I do not know what to say about the book.  I cannot call it beautiful because the world described is  horrible.  It is not really hopeful because the world does not have much, if any hope.  The father has a drive to protect his son, so that the son might have a life.  He is not really hoping for a better life as much as just ‘a life’.  But beyond that drive there is little but tragedy.

The main theme of Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card that I read earlier this week was a very similar drive to procreate and live beyond yourself in your children.  But there was a real difference between these two book’s vision of caring for your children.

In Card’s book, Bean wants his children to create a new world and a new species of human.  In The Road, the Father does not seem to have the same type of drive for ongoing legacy. The Father several times talks about not giving up or committing suicide because ‘we don’t do that, we can’t do that’.  Maybe it is simply the difference in settings and genre between the two books.  The desperation in the Road is far beyond anything in Card.  In Card, Bean is afraid that his children will die young as he does. But while they will have short lives, the lives will have some meaning.

In The Road, there is no attempt at hope or meaning.

I probably do not sound very positive about The Road.  It is very well written.  And if you make it through the horrors of the first 50 pages or so, the tension is maintained throughout the book, but it does not raise much beyond that level of tension.  This is another book I would recommend to the right person.  If you do not like tension, if you are looking for a happy story, if you want a nice resolution at the end, keep looking for your next book.

But if you are OK with tension and tragedy, this is a very good book.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook Note: because this book has both an Oprah book club edition and a movie tie in edition and has sold very well, there are many options for finding it used or at your library.  Here is a link for a used version at Amazon for $3.99 including shipping if you have Prime)

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