The Road – Cannonball Read #13

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Pulitzer Prize winning post apocalyptic depression fest.

A man and a boy walk down a road. The world is covered with ash.

That’s sort of it for the plot. They are going somewhere.

My first thought as I read this book was that there was no hope in it. Most post apocalyptic stories hold the promise of a new world to be built. There is a phoenix-like quality to them. There is nothing of that in The Road. It is bleak without being explicit. I felt in every description of a meal or a search through an abandoned property that there was no life left in anything. All that remains in the book are small pieces of life from before, all of them slowly fading to nothingness. This includes the people. They are only still alive because they haven’t died yet, not because there is any reason to keep on living.

The character of the wife, only experienced in flashback, is odd but illuminating. Her dialog is ridiculously complex when contrasted with that of the man and the boy. It’s obvious that she is wholly a construct created by the author to ask the central question of the novel. Why keep going? I spent the first fifty pages of the novel asking myself “Why is this guy still going? There is no reason to live.” The wife’s worldview is so uncompromisingly bleak that I rebelled against her and started rooting for the man and the boy. Even though she seemed unnatural and her characterization was heavy handed McCarthy succeeded in using her to illuminate the incredibly tiny hope left in the world simply by showing that she had none.

The prose is oddly written although I can’t say if it is typical for McCarthy as this is the first work of his that I have read. It’s almost a storyboard of small scenes and vignettes from the lives of the characters. The dialogue is brief and spare. Contrasting with that are McCarthy’s almost florid descriptions of the landscape and characters. It’s evocative to be sure but it feels like reaching. I can’t help but think the author went through his manuscript at one point with a thesaurus and picked out the most obscure synonyms for adjectives that he could.  It’s not in the same league with Umberto Eco in terms of intellectual rigor. Reading The Name of the Rose I felt a bit stupid because of the impenetrability of the ideas and arguments set forth by the author.  In The Road I just felt like the author wanted to show off his vocabulary.

McCarthy’s real triumph is in holding up a mirror to the reader. No matter how futile existence may appear we as a species and as individuals will strive to continue in the face of bleakest despair. We will grasp at the most improbable, distant iota of hope.  In the darkest night the tiny light shines more clearly.

2 thoughts on “The Road – Cannonball Read #13”

  1. I read this book over a few hours 3 weeks ago.. It was incredibly depressing and I was incredibly afraid for them as they tried to get to their destination. The world was so awful and full of horrible people. The author never did describe what happened to the world, but whatever it was killed all plants and animals. I wouldn’t want to live in the world that was described in that book. The end of the book was really sad. Overall I liked it, but don’t think I’ll read it again.

  2. I found it very powerful. I thought the end was rather uplifting *spoiler* the idea that there was a reason to hold on and keep hoping and that the work and the effort and the pain was all worth it. For so long he presents world without hope. There aren’t any new plants or animals and death seems inevitable. I came to dread the ending of the book, trying to get ready for their deaths. But when it came it was not what I was dreading. Can’t say I will ever read it again but it actually cheered me a bit.

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