Monday, March 12, 2007

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy brings us a brutal post apocalyptic story to modern America with The Road. Something happened. McCarthy never says exactly what happened and it does not matter. America, and probably the world, is in ruins. There is no hope, there is only survival. A man and his young son are walking across the new American wasteland heading south and to the coast in hopes that there things will be cleaner and there the weather will be warmer. Maybe in the south there will be a community of people wiling to take them in. Maybe there will be something to hope for. Maybe.

McCarthy's stark descriptions and narrative style fits The Road perfectly. The language and the style is as bleak as the landscape these unnamed characters are traveling through. One thing McCarthy is known for is that he doesn't punctuate his dialogue. This aspect of his writing is more like he is telling us a story orally and not through the written word. It is a quirk that works very well in his novels and works especially well in The Road. The dialogue is spare and is perhaps what a father and son would talk about when the world has ended and there is no promise that they will live to complete their journey or even that there is anything to hope for at the end of their journey. Just snips of conversation, unfinished sentences and thoughts. It all fits organically with the description of the story and of the journey.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Post Apocalyptic novels and are built on foundations of ruined societies and The Road is no different. This is not a pleasant novel in the sense that the reader will necessarily want to spend times in the American Wasteland, but it is a powerful and moving novel about survival and holding on to the last glimmer of hope not for your sake, but for the sake of your child.

With all of this said, McCarthy's previous novel No Country for Old Men is a superior piece of fiction in terms of storytelling. The spareness of The Road is part of its power, but it is also part of its weakness. The unnamed father and son pair works in the abstract and works in the sense that it could be any father and son, but on the other hand we learn so little about the father and son that it is difficult to truly care about the characters. There is enough characterization to care, but we care more because of the situation than the character. Through all of the power and perceived power of The Road, there is also an emptiness at its core which is slightly unsatisfying.

Cormac McCarthy is an American master and while The Road is far more hit than miss, there are enough misfires here to not give it my strongest possible recommendation. But, The Road is sure worth the time spent reading it.

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