The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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A searing, post apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

"People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn't believe in that. Tomorrow wasn't getting ready for them. It didn't even know they were there."

Beautifully written and grim, 'The Road' focuses on two characters traveling through a dying world in a dead civilization. Ash covers everything, even tainting the sea itself, and nothing pretty remains. It soon becomes clear that the point of the novel isn't to show why the world was destroyed or a reason behind the madness, but the purpose is just existing and why a father holds on to such a limited life. Love may not conquer all in a reality that's destroyed, but it's still a light that radiates a bit of calm and peace.

The man doesn't even get a name, but the bond he feels for his son is tangible, as are his memories of a wife who still haunts. Contrast between someone who bailed and someone who stayed due to their child is interesting. The bond was what drove the story forward, not a hidden message or one particular scene. World-building was brutal but it wasn't complex with explanation. I still don't know what happened to their world, a Nuclear Winter matches with the ashes, but the author makes a point that it doesn't matter anyway.

It's definitely not an action-intense story. There are a few harrowing scenes that up the tension stakes and I just knew it would end brutally but was secretly hoping for a semblance of a happy ending because really - this needed a little light shed through the dark world covered with soot and inhabited by deranged survivors who look for people to victimize, steal from, rape and actually eat. Cannibalizing is mentioned quite a bit. I won't delude myself into assuming this wouldn't be our reality either - but still, give me a little hope, especially when a small child I bonded with is involved. I'm happy with what realism the author injected into a grim circumstance, but I'm also happy he threw me a small bone of peace at the same time. Yeah, I'm a softie.

It's bleak, it's brutal, it's memorable - but my enjoyment of it did not reach the five star label. The pacing is fine and it's mainly the writing and emotions that keep it riveting, but it's not a heavily paced story. Don't mistake this to mean it's ever boring, because it never is. The Road is an apt title because the point of the book seems to be the experiences on the journey but not the journey itself.

McCarthy writes beautifully. Poetic prose with few commas and unconventional dialogue format. Run-on exists but you just don't care with his bleak style. I'd read Harold Bloom remark that he is one of the four great novelists writing today while he heavily promoted his 'Blood Meridian'.

I look forward to reading more of his books, to walking with him on more of his desolate roads.

And no, I haven't seen the movie yet.

   Book Quotes:

“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

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