Nick's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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's review
Dec 12, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: i-want-my-time-back, apocolyptic

I wrestled with a final rating for this. "The Road" definitely has merit. The style is purposefully minimalist. As others have noted there are very few apostrophe's, no commas, no quotation marks. The font is dull. The paragraphs carry extra spacing. The words are clipped. This all works very well for setting the atmosphere.

As others have offered it is also not the job of the author to explain away all questions. Leaving a sense of mystery can be very good for a story. We should expect that in the end there should be some questions left unanswered. We should expect this all the more when the story is written in a third person form that has a nearly claustrophobic attachment to the characters perspective.

However, we should always expect the story to make sense based on what we know of how the world works. The setting is not just furniture. This is true in all settings, even fantasy and science fiction. In Tolkien's world dragons may breath fire but apples still fall down. As the setting becomes grittier we should expect the rules to be tighter and more menacing.

Unfortunately, rules don't apply in "The Road". We are presented with an apocalyptic world where every meal counts and where people have turned to cannibalism to survive. And here we are presented with our first problem. Cannibalism as a survival technique isn't very efficient. Eating people that are emaciated by hunger doesn't result in a good transfer of calories. Yet the book strongly implies that the cannibalistic cults have been active for years.

Also odd is that they have avoided the bodies. The father and son are constantly coming across corpses. Some of them still smell. More than a few are mummified. Why not boil those down, since they seem to be plentiful, before having to chase and hunt humans "on the hoof"? It isn't that this makes the cults suicidal and stupid, the problem is that there is no reason for them still existing.

There are other logical inconstancies. The father and son eat dried apples from a field in a world were clouds, rain, and snow seem to be constant. How exactly are they dry? The sun can't dry them out and neither can the heat. All of that is gone.

Nothing grows except one instance of fungus. If everything is dead, except the humans, where did the fungus come from? If fungus survived, why not moss? After all of this time why isn't life coming back? Even Chernobyl is virtual a parkland now. There appears to be no radiation in this world yet nothing lives, why? There are fires being set by the cults yet houses, and the author spends some time describing what is wooden frame construction sitting next to the burnt out houses, still stand. Fires are also being set to what, charcoal? The author doesn't have to explain all of these things, but he does have to be consistent.

Since humans, lumbering giants at the tip of the food pyramid, survived he has to show what happened to the mice. And no, canned food doesn't count. Even a survivalist will only pack enough for his family for six months to a few years. The book implies that the son was born at the time of the disaster and he's old enough now to hold a conversation and be useful which implies that he's at least four years old. Why isn't the food all gone? Given that nothing lives, why not avoid the calorie expenditure and sit on any store of food you find rather than tromping through freezing weather to find the shore. Most critical of all, if there is a reason, why not impart this reason to your son?

Since the book never answers these questions it has to rely on style, which is done well, and a questionable emotional appeal. It is, in many ways, the worst of modern decadence. It expects us to not ask any important questions about the setting and instead feel for the horrors that the characters face. It is a very subtle and powerful form of emotional blackmail. It teaches us to be less than human, to fear and not to think about what we fear.
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02/09/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Bmd (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bmd "It teaches us to be less than human, to fear and not to think about what we fear"

To me, I think it was the complete opposite. The book was not meant to be a survival guide for an apocolyptic world. It was rather the story of a father and his son, and how they dealt with fear, solitude, hope... the things that *really* make us human.

I suggest you read the story again and try not to focus on these details. Rather surrender yourself to the feeling of fear and desolation which the author tries to invoke. From there, the relationship between the father and his son really becomes the focus. For me anyway, this is were the book really shines.

Nick "the story of a father and his son, and how they dealt with fear, solitude, hope"

Which as a father he utterly failed to do. He was not classically masculine in any sense of the word. In fact, as time has gone by, I've come to view "The Road" as "chick-horror". It is a shallow emotional appeal. At no point, as you so aptly point out, does the father teach the son to survive. Even worse, at no point does he teach him about civilization, the fire he's supposedly preserving. Instead at every turn they abandon civilization.

It is not the ethos of life. It is the ethos of death writ large and in shaking grasping hands.

Elizabeth "Leaving a sense of mystery can be very good for a story"

Story? Did I miss something?

I diligently ploughed through the whole fetid text in the hope that a piece of narrative might pop out from its hiding place behind some burnt-out bus, might emerge from the brume. But no. McCarthy is consistent, at least.

message 4: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy I love your tag of "I-want-my-time-back". May I steal it from you?

message 5: by Abi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Abi 'Chick-horror'? What the f***? If I were a feminist I would probably hunt you down for that.

Chad I believe the book was ment metaphorically, not as a literally accurate "what if?" story.

Felicia I know it has been awhile since anyone has commented on this, but I agree with the review above-I preferred a little more detail, although the relationship between the son and father was not lost on me, however.

Sheila I agree with the review.

I kept thinking through the whole book - why are people alive if nothing else is? If you need wood why not start ripping down the structure of the houses? Why hasn’t vegetation started coming back? What could possibly have caused this world to exist? It really took away from my enjoyment of the book. The language was lovely, but I did have a hard time getting past the logic issues.

Jesse Houle Of all the negative reviews I read for this book, I think this is the best. While I agree with most of these points, they didn't ruin it for me as much as they did for others.

message 10: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim You really didn't get this book at all. That's a shame.

The point of the journey south for the father was to find a safe place for his son. He obviously knows early on that he is dying and can't look after him much longer that is why they keep moving. THAT is the point of the book. He is doing all of this for his son, he is protecting him, trying to find him a better life while he still has an ability to do that.

And why is there cannibalism? Because there is hardly any food left. It is out of, laziness and/or neccesity. Donner party? Uruguayan soccer team? You really don't think that people would turn to this in an apocalyptic nuclear winter scenario? I work in retail and I know they would.

message 11: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Which as a father he utterly failed to do. He was not classically masculine in any sense of the word. In fact, a..."

Next time instead of reading why don't you drop in on your old Fraternity house and watch Animal House again?

Jeremy Vegetation is scarce because there's never direct sunlight, it's filtered through a constant cloud cover. Plants need sunlight to thrive. Trees that are already full grown might be able to produce apples with a minumum of filtered sunlight, so that might explain that, I don't know, I'm not a botanist. Also, the apples have probably been on the ground for quite awhile with plenty of opportunity to dry out, it would only take a day or two of heat to dry them, so it raining a handful of times in a couple months isn't going to keep them fresh. Just because McCarthy mentions precipitation quite a bit, the story takes place over a long period of time and it's not constantly raining in the characters' timeframe, just in the narrative. Most of the other questions posed if given a little thought have answers that are just as easily come by. It's not a documentary or historical fiction or anything that should be read into that much. If you're going to question every minute detail just because everything's not explained to you I fail to see how you enjoy reading anything for entertainment sake.

message 13: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Reading this review, all I can hear in my head is the last few lines from the MST3K theme: "Just repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax." In other words, don't sweat the details and "rules" of this world he created. It's not like he planned on making a series of these and needs to establish how his universe works. We're not meant to be concerned about them. I also don't understand what you mean by "classically masculine" - is he not meant to show any type of emotion?

message 14: by Davidlondon (new) - added it

Davidlondon I'm glad that someone else found that the world McCarthy imagined wasn't quite logically consistent. While I thought the book was tremendous, this did bother me too. If the child had been brought up in this post-apocalyptic world by his father, sheltered from all other people (who are regarded as a threat), would he really be able to behave and speak in what we consider a normal way? In particular, the ending seemed to offer hope when, given that the underlying facts hadn't changed, there was no reason at all for hope. What exactly would this new community live on, if all the plants and animals were dead and they didn't eat other people?

Dacia You know, I think it's funny how you talk about the "logic" of the world. That didn't bother me so much, I was able to "leg go and go with the flow". The problem for me WAS the relationship of the father and the son. Neither character was ever developed as a person, so the love never felt real. Instead it felt as if the father owned his son and was going to love him because that's what father's do to sons. And, I would point out, if going south was supposed to keep the kid safe, wouldn't there have been SOME evidence that safety might indeed exist somewhere?

♥ Susan I am assuming only fungus grew because it is anaerobic.

No other comments, it is on my to-read list!

William > very few apostrophe's
Redress the balance. I love it :)

message 18: by Roy (new) - rated it 1 star

Roy I'm baffled by people who describe McCarthy's prose as minimalist. The man writes as if he was being paid by the word and his writing is full of purple prose.

Other than that I agree with the rest of your review.

message 19: by Nick (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nick Dacia wrote: "You know, I think it's funny how you talk about the "logic" of the world. That didn't bother me so much, I was able to "leg go and go with the flow". The problem for me WAS the relationship of th..."

Quite right.

message 20: by Nick (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nick Dan wrote: "Reading this review, all I can hear in my head is the last few lines from the MST3K theme: "Just repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax." In other words, don't sweat the de..."

This sort of comment infuriates me. It bespeaks a people that wouldn't understand masculine or feminine virtues if they went and smacked them upside the head. No deary. Showing emotions isn't the problem at all.

Ashley A lot of the comments are about how the book is not logically consistent and the father and sons relationship was not developed enough and whatnot. As far as the not logically consistent part, we can say wether or not it is logical as far as plants growing and dried apples because we don't know was happen to cause the apocalypse, the cannibalism is there because it has been a longtime sense the apocalypse and it is becoming difficult to find food and the father and boy don't eat other people because that is something more like what and animal would do and the father tries to keep there humanity there is a part towards the end when they meet a man and he tells them that he has lived like an animal and that they don't want to know the things he has eaten, the boy is a source of good and of hope the cannibals are seen as bad because if they are caught by them they will be raped and eaten. The relationship with the father is different there is a tension between them because the boy is completely good and self- less and the father while maybe viewed by us as better then the cannibals is still not good he is evil and one point I believe McCarthy to be making is there is not in between with good or evil you are good or evil not good for the most part and because the fathers goal is to keep the boy safe he stops the boy from helping others and the boy doesn't like this. the part of the relationship we see is one were the boy is slowly surpassing the father and the father is letting him in anticipation of his death. The boy was raised by his mother a little as well because he was old enough to understand that she had left for good also he does know a little about the past world but not much. The journey to the cost is part of the hope I think that was there goal to get there and maybe find somewhere safe maybe see a blue ocean maybe find someplace warming t was there hope to get to someplace with other people who are good as well because the man won't kill the boy because he couldn't do it before and won't do it now because that is part of his selfishness and the non-good part of him. But also it's part of his hope for the boys survival and continuation of the boys good deeds.
The book is supposed to be about the relationship of the boy and his father and the struggle for survival, the new fears of being wet and not having shoes and hope and sacrifice and good V. Evil not how a new apocalyptic world works and how apples dry when it's cloudy all the time.

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