Scribble Orca's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Dec 29, 10

bookshelves: adult-or-mature, unfinished

This isn't the review you think it is.

When she woke in the cave in the light and the warmth of the morning she'd reach out to caress the child sleeping beside her. Nights glowing beyond brightness and the days more colourful each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some warm aurora illuminating the world. Her hand rose and fell softly with each miraculous breath. She pushed away the covering of knitted fabric and raised herself in the crumpled robes and blankets and looked toward the east for remnants of darkness but there were none. In the dream from which she'd wakened she had wandered into a forest where the child led her by the hand. Sunlight playing over the moist and thick-barked trunks. Like pilgrims in a fable enchanted and lost among the winding paths of some living beast. Shallow stone streams where the water gushed and sang. Whispering in the babble the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years into infinity. Until they stood in a great wooded clearing where lay a many-coloured and mysterious lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the shimmering pool and stared into the light with eyes electric blue and all-seeing as the gaze of eagles. It bowed its head low over the water as if to confirm the scent of what it saw. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the trees behind it. Its lungs, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a shiny glass bell. It tilted its head from side to side and then gave a high pitched cry and turned and stepped along the bank and loped joyfully towards them.

I used to know this woman whom I'll call Lydia and she was a bit weird. She wrote awful poetry and worse prose. She sent me this a while ago. An idea for a fantasy she had. Told me she'd showed it to some guy she'd met in Mexico. He'd read it and told her to keep practising. Said she needed to learn how to construct sentences. Cut out the flowery adjectives and the lengthy descriptions and the conjunctions appearing several times in one sentence.

And he said that nobody would want to read about a woman and a kid on an adventure where they journey through a beautiful world filled with people who are kind and caring and who believe in and act upon the essential and innate goodness of each other. Nobody would be interested in a happy kid growing up in such world under the loving eyes of her mother or empathise with a parent looking forward to watching the development of her child.

So she asked him would it matter if she wrote about a different relationship. He'd told her to stick to writing females. She wasn't competent enough to write males. That was when she asked me what I thought.

Well. Her prose was disorienting, surreal, too colourful, too much like over-the-top films and CNN broadcasts flashing the latest pictorial world headline. And this guy in Mexico, actually I thought he might have had a point. Who considers identifying with an obviously desirable and completely unreal utopia, and who believes, anyway, in the essential goodness of humanity? Zen monks, maybe? We're all so zoned out with just getting on with our lives, aren't we?

On the other hand, if she'd decided to write a dystopia, using washed out, dull and gray prose painting a landscape like this:

[image error]

and rendered her characters as empty receptacles into which the emotions of the reader could be poured, with dialogue that kept them as nameless and faceless as this:

description

then she would have achieved the goal of extracting an intense empathic response from the reader which justified her own feelings, while simultaneously allowing the reader to experience an emotional blood-letting scorned or avoided in real life.

I figured that if she used the kind of prose which seems to be spare and crafted, that reads like a movie script or a play, she'd render a portrait bleak and stark enough to capture the attention of our visual-media-swamped oculi. Nothing to interfere with the absorption of the reader into this dark and forsaken world.

She wasn't really happy with my answer. She didn't want her readers to identify with fictional characters. Just as she wanted to record her own happiness, if she was going to write about ugliness, she wanted to record a real dystopia, like this:

description

or this:

description

with ecological destruction such as:

description

and:

description

forming the setting for her story.

What story? A couple of starving kids in Africa? A few hectares of burnt rainforest? So what. Who cares?

Then she surprised me. She talked about a book she had read called hector. She told me how the author described in painful and vivid detail the life of someone we all know, and about whom we never think, who suffers on a daily basis and has no joy in life, experiences no serenity, no peace, no fulfilment, and could just as easily be you or me. And she said she cried when she read this book, and wished that other people would read it also, and change the way they thought about that someone, and act differently toward that someone, because that might bring us closer to the utopia she imagined as real.

I promised her I'd read it. What else could I do?

But she didn't stop there. There's another book, Existence Costs. She told me how she walked with the author around a city where people lived and worked and ate and slept every day, completely unaware of 'the others', the ones who raided garbage bins for food, who slipped silent forever beneath a placard pleading for recognition, who shuffled through the subways without a place to rest, to stay, to belong. Real people, who were gray amongst all the dapper business suits and colourful slogans advertising the next 'must have' on flashy billboards and on blaring loudspeakers. She wanted empathy for those people, because their reality was an urban dystopia from which they could not escape, but which they deserved no more than the inhabitants of the city deserved their insularity and well-being.

I assured her I'd look at this book, too. It seemed the only human thing to do.



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Comments (showing 1-50 of 162) (162 new)


message 1: by Scribble (last edited Dec 29, 2010 03:52PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Thank you, Mariel :D.

I think McCarthy has been extraordinarily clever drawing people into his dystopic world. But I hold him in no admiration for it.


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 22, 2011 08:12AM) (new)

Happy new year, and happy whatever other holidays you celebrate!


message 3: by Scribble (last edited Dec 29, 2010 11:40PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Thank you, Ceridwen, for the kind words.

Perhaps I'll revisit the book again and revise my opinion. For the moment it strikes me as sophistic self-indulgence on McCarthy's part.

A wonderful New Year to you and yours, as well.


Brad Beautifully said, G N. I am humbled and honoured. I wonder what McCarthy himself would say. (BTW ... that has to be one of the best uses of images I've seen on here. Well done.)


message 5: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Thank you, Brad, for the double compliment. I appreciate that you think I've caught the spirit of your work. I would far rather see it elicit the pages of comments and number of readers that McCarthy currently attracts.

I think age atrophies our sense of sharing not just the suffering of our fellows, but the desire or impetus to effect change for the better in the world around us. But that may be my own very narrow perspective, and McCarthy might contend that his work is written with that goal in mind. I just couldn't find it.


Michael I'm glad you clarified your reasons for disliking The Road, G N. And, if this is your reaction to the book, I can see why you're confused about the attraction to McCarthy. But, this isn't at all what I got out of the book.

The Road: There is hope in even the darkest of times and places.

Blood Meridian: "manifest destiny" and America's westward expansion was a bloody, shameful, violent mess that history books gloss over.

The Orchard Keeper: As apart as we all feel from one another, our lives intertwine and bring us together in ways we don't even recognize.

I could keep going, but almost every book he has written has spoken to me. Your charges that he ignores women is undeniable, and this annoys the crap out of me, honestly. I think it's the biggest weakness in his writing. But, his books speak to me.

A part of this is because he manages to move his stories out of the political realm. By never bringing up the events that caused all the death, The Road avoids being an eco-manifesto or a message about the dangers of nukes: it remains a human tale about two people living through hell. That doesn't invalidate politically motivated books, and I would love to read a book this compelling about any of the hundreds of "dystopias" in the world right now...but the lack of a political angle makes the story more human, more universal...to me.

So, summarizing, I think your position is valid, but mine is completely different.


message 7: by Scribble (last edited Dec 30, 2010 09:10AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Michael, thank you for your thoughtful clarification, and also respecting our differing opinions.

Perhaps I have a additional difficulty, entirely my fault, in that I consider the author him/herself in the reading of his/her work. This lends a certain sympathy, or in the case of McCarthy, a creeping antipathy which I'm not sure I can articulate, as I feel it at the most visceral level.

I think McCarthy made very deliberate choices to create what is ostensibly a human tale of two people, and avoided mention of other factors (politics, ecology) which would create a distraction. As far as I understand from having read about McCarthy, he sees the world hurtling toward a bleak future he fears for his son John. He may or may not blame political factors for the coming apocalypse, but I doubt that is his primary concern. It is that of realising he is old and his son is young, and he will die leaving his son to face this unknown and fearful world.

I object to him personalising his fears in the manner he has done, to extract and elicit heartfelt responses from his readers, in what seems to me to be purely selfish. Would the same tale work without the bleak dystopia? Would it still be universal? What is less universal than the sufferings of millions of people on the planet now, in a myriad of ways, whether the result of political influence or individual choice - where is the compassion, and will and action to change their circumstances?

McCarthy draws the reader into his private hell, he doesn't encourage the reader to empathise with the global hells felt at the local level everywhere around the world. That is perhaps why I feel such an antipathy towards him. If only he had channelled the obvious empathy readers possess into acknowledging and acting upon the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves, I would feel he was deserving of the honours he has received. hector and Existence Costs at least work to encourage the reader to think and feel in this direction.

I would prefer, honestly, that we need no books to remind ourselves of our humanity, that our sense of community and responsibility towards each other was as instinctive as breathing.

And that, ultimately, is a terribly utopic perspective.


message 8: by David (new)

David Katzman I liked your comment #8 even better than your review! Bravo!


message 9: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca David, thank you. I was hoping for circumspection in the review....but the truth will out in threads it seems.


message 10: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 30, 2010 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I just find your complaints to be strange. By your logic here, you could just as rightfully launch the same complaints at ANY BOOK or ANY EXPRESSION AT ALL. 'Why didn't you mention genocide?' could follow any human utterance that doesn't mention how horrible genocide is. The fact is that McCarthy wasn't intending to write a book detailing the fall of the world around us. Anyone with their eyelids even a 1/4 of the way open can see what's happening around us, how fucked up most political systems are, how much damage selfish business interests are doing to the environment, how clearly human rights are being trampled upon, etc. I think McCarthy expected his readers to be informed enough readers to be able to fill in the blanks here. The Road is a novel showing the most microscopic level of human psychology in a post-apocalyptic world. It never claimed to be anything else. Take it for what it is. Don't put demands on it that it doesn't deserve. It's no more logical to expect McCarthy to give you a detailed description of third-world political oppression in this book than it is to demand that, say, Shakespeare include talking robots in Hamlet. It just doesn't follow, logically. Your complaints feel like a total non sequitur to me.


message 11: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Thank you for contributing your view, MFSO.

It's quite true that I may have bluntly missed McCarthy's point and that his novel is purely psychological analysis in a post-apocalyptic world, and has nothing to do with his own situation. And it is also true that I may be over-interpreting his intent and imbuing my reading of the book with unnecessary demands.

I don't see (which could no doubt be another indicator of my lack of perspicuity) the logical inference using what I have written as being my major complaint with McCarthy as suggesting carte blanche complaints against books or expression. Otherwise I would have hardly, although in your opinion, mistakenly, made reference to two other books in my review.

I state my analysis of this book on my perception of deliberate choices McCarthy made, fully aware of the effect on the reader. You've pointed out that you think this is an incorrect reading of the book, therefore any logic I develop from here will be incorrect for you.

I don't ask McCarthy to write his book differently because I don't think he wants a different reaction to his book. But I do wonder why, given his apparent skill, his focus was on examining a relationship which he indicates mirrors his own (he said that passages of dialogue between the two characters are verbatim dialogue he has had with his son) set in a world which is an analogue for his own view of where the world is heading. What else if not to garner empathy for his own situation? He could have generated empathy far beyond that.

As I said, that maybe a completely unfair and narrow-minded perspective to apply to McCarthy. Or fallacious and illogical, if not unintentionally humorous.


message 12: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 30, 2010 12:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio What else if not to garner empathy for his own situation?

The fact that he will die is not merely "his own situation." Dying is tied for Most Universal Human Trait with being born. Fearing for our children is also another hugely universal trait. I fail to see your point again. Unless you want to apply this complaint to all stories that focus on a small number of characters and/or mirror the author's life/concerns then I don't see how your criticism is anymore valid here than it would be for the millions of other stories that share these qualities.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio "But I do wonder why, given his apparent skill, his focus was on examining a relationship which he indicates mirrors his own"

Because he's a writer. This is what writers do. I don't see the problem here either.


message 14: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 30, 2010 01:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio If his primary focus was to "garner empathy for his own situation" he would've written an autobiography and focused it on his relationship with his son, his fear of where the world's headed, etc. But even if he did this I wouldn't immediately accuse him of selfishly begging for attention. Perhaps consider a less shallow motivation playing a role, like, I dunno, wanting to write something that people could connect with emotionally, the way that human beings have connected with stories for millenia. Or would that just be more selfish pandering and forsaking of the socio-political details?


message 15: by Scribble (last edited Dec 30, 2010 01:57PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "The fact that he will die is not merely "his own situation." Dying is tied for Most Universal Human Trait with being born. Fearing for o..."

I think we have different expectations of writers, MFSO, if I understand your objections to my reasoning correctly? While it is true we all die, and fear for our children, McCarthy has contrived to create two empty characters which beg the reader to self-insert. Why? To experience a commonality? To remind us of this commonality? Why should I feel a greater sympathy for him than someone else? Why would he want me to feel a sympathy for his own life? Just because in the end we all die and fear for our children?

A writer writes to awaken a response in all of us to something universal beyond the writer's own intimate situation. You may be quite right that I am critical of McCarthy unnecessarily and unjustly, and should also view these millions of other stories in the same way. I am as yet ignorant of these stories, but no doubt the deep resonance engendered with their readers will lead to their widespread emergence and I will therefore be granted the same opportunity to decry their overtly external focus based on the writers' internal dialogue.


message 16: by Scribble (last edited Jan 01, 2011 07:19AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "Because he's a writer. This is what writers do. I don't see the problem."

For me it is a problem. Artists create to bring something to us which speaks beyond our immediacy. It is true that McCarthy is accessible for you, and is therefore an artist for you, using that definition. However he is not for me, because I feel his immediacy is primarily his own, and not elevating a universal truth to a state that is immutable. Again, perhaps I have a misguided definition of art, the artist, and his/her results. I don't believe in art for the artist's sake, but for the audience' sake.


message 17: by Scribble (last edited Dec 30, 2010 01:55PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "If his primary focus was to "garner empathy for his own situation" he would've written an autobiography and focused it on his relationship with his son, his fear of where the world's headed, etc. ..."

I don't believe so. I doubt as many people would be drawn to read an autobiography, however this in an unquantifiable statement. But I do wonder why he encapsulated dialogues with his son in a work of fiction. The truth disguised - why? Your answer is that he wished to write 'something' with which people could connect emotionally. My answer is different.

Is the truth of the matter that we find it easier to connect with something that seems to represent us as ourselves, as individuals? And that we can't connect with something outside our immediate frame of reference?

In which case, I stand humbly corrected.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I don't believe in art for the artist's sake, but for the audience' sake.

Give me an example of this selfless art.

It sounds like the only way a person can write a book that meets your demands is to send it in to a publishing house anonymously and receive no acknowledgment or payment for it whatsoever.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio But I do wonder why he encapsulated dialogues with his son in a work of fiction.

Does this really confound you? You can't possibly be this naive. Fiction writers use snippets of their real lives all of the time. And how could they not? They're mining their experience and synthesizing bits and pieces of their minds together in order to make something new to put on the page. This is what it is to create fiction. Even the fantasy genre stuff you seem to be partial to undoubtedly has real-world influence.


message 20: by Scribble (last edited Dec 30, 2010 01:55PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "Fiction writers use snippets of their real lives..."

I think that's perfectly valid - snippets.

And I'm partial to books of many genres which don't require a huge emotional outpouring on my side. You're right, of course. I should probably stick to non-fiction, and then only in limited subjects.


message 21: by Scribble (last edited Dec 30, 2010 01:56PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "Give me an example of this selfless art.

It sounds like the only way a person can write a book that meets your demands is to send it in to a publishing house anonymously and receive no acknowledgment or payment for it whatsoever."


Selfless because you interpret that to mean it should have no personal reference to the writer, or selfless as in serving the audience?

It isn't the term I would choose, hence the question. Indeed, it does seem we are talking past each other. By saying for the audience sake, I mean that this is the primary concern for the artist - and naturally, monetary reward and acknowledgement will follow depending on the extent to which the artist renders universal truths immutable and accessible to his/her audience, and draws a profound and meaningful emotional response beyond the immediate nature/situation of the artist.


Michael But I do wonder why he encapsulated dialogues with his son in a work of fiction. The truth disguised - why?

This idea resonates with me the same way it does for MFSO. I don't see writing fiction as a way of 'disguising' the truth, as much as a way of distilling it, morphing it into something more palatable in some way. Even in fantasy or SF, you have snippets of 'truth' mixed in.

That said, I don't understand your dismissal of the characters. You say they are 'empty,' and left to be filled by the readers, when they very clearly have personality. Then, you make it sound like it's a blueprint of McCarthy and his son, which even if they're based on himself and his son, are clearly not having the same conversations he's had with his son. The situation for McCarthy is much different than it is for the characters in the book, since he's a rich author in a pre-apocalyptic setting.

And, as a final point, you seem to still be arguing that there's something selfish about writing a highly personal book. I think authors who think more about their audience's reaction to a book than their own passions and concerns are likely to write bad books.

What is selfish about writing what you want to write? McCarthy didn't force anyone to buy his book, or read about what he's brooding about. It just so happens that a lot of people wanted to. So, after more than thirty years of writing in obscurity, he suddenly became rich and popular, without catering to anyone, and while staying true to his art. This, to me, is a sign of a very dedicated artist.


message 23: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Wow, this has got to be like the Twilight of adult books (er, okay, that sounds off, but you know, not YA). It seems to provoke really major love or hate reactions, and boy do the lovers defend it! Check out Keely's review and Ian's.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio The haters just give non-sensical reasons for their hate. Never in a million years would I have guessed that people didn't like it because they thought the author was shamelessly seeking sympathy. It just sounds ridiculous to attach the word "self-absorbed" to this book. It leaves me (mostly) speechless with frustration.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I can understand and fully accept people not liking this book, but the reasons given here just baffle me. Why not just keep it simple and be honest and say "This book bummed me out. I don't like feeling bummed out. The end."


message 26: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 30, 2010 09:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Keely attacks the prose style. This is more acceptable (even though I think he's mistaken to not see the beauty in McCarthy's prose style) as it has to do more so with subjective taste. But the more fact-related claims about about McCarthy's motivation being to elicit personal sympathy are just bizarre and extremely implausible.


message 27: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "But the more fact-related claims about about McCarthy's motivation being to elicit personal sympathy are just bizarre and extremely implausible."

Um, okay. But I do feel that it seems a perfectly valid subjective reaction to say, "Well, my reading of The Road is that it was written to evoke personal sympathy for McCarthy's own situation and in this context, given the content, I found it repugnant." Of course, that's only how I read what GNF was saying.


message 28: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Sorry for jumping in here GNF.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Well then we all have valid subjective reactions I suppose. If writing The Road is how someone gets sympathy from their reading public then I don't know anything about anything. Apparently I'm living in a topsy-turvey world where well-established authors want people to cry over how they're old and their children are young by writing a post-apocalyptic novel starring a father and son. What a strange inversion of reasoning.


message 30: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Hi, Whitaker, and thank you for jumping in. I appreciate your spare interpretation.

Since I've just woken up and the brain has yet to engage, I'm perfectly happy for you to continue - btw, what is your opinion on book/author, or do you any other comments to add re Michael/MFSO's perspective? Please feel invited and free to continue while I strive for a semblance of compus mentis (although MFSO will no doubt think this is a hopeless quest).


message 31: by Whitaker (last edited Dec 30, 2010 11:22PM) (new)

Whitaker Well, in fairness to GNF, he does underline that his reaction is his own emotional reaction to the book:
I consider the author him/herself in the reading of his/her work. This lends a certain sympathy, or in the case of McCarthy, a creeping antipathy which I'm not sure I can articulate, as I feel it at the most visceral level... I object to him personalising his fears in the manner he has done, to extract and elicit heartfelt responses from his readers, in what seems to me to be purely selfish.
I understand that this is not how you feel, but it does seem a little harsh to criticise GNF for feeling this way.

MFSO, in your review, you described the novel as follows:
Books like this that contain such magnificently terrible visions of a doomed planet, also contain the impetus to appreciate things once taken for granted and to cherish and protect these things with every fibre of one’s being... Anything that can shake a person to their core and set off a chain of thoughts that leads to the desire to live better than before, perhaps ethically, or to allow them to feel things more profoundly—such as gratitude and amazement at the very fact of anything existing at all—deserves all the praise it can get.
So evidently your reading of the text was that it was ultimately a positive one. On the other hand, GNF took away a different reading:
McCarthy draws the reader into his private hell, he doesn't encourage the reader to empathise with the global hells felt at the local level everywhere around the world. That is perhaps why I feel such an antipathy towards him. If only he had channelled the obvious empathy readers possess into acknowledging and acting upon the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves, I would feel he was deserving of the honours he has received.
Fundamentally, the book read very differently to both of you. You felt that it contained an impetus to positive action; GNF felt that it did not. I don't think those readings can be reconciled, but perhaps on a subjective level, both reactions--containing as they do the readers' personal beliefs and backgrounds--are perfectly valid for each reader. I don't think GNF is asking you to agree with his own reaction.


message 32: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 30, 2010 11:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, I lay it on a bit thick there (though I stand by my words however thickly laid on). And I will admit to being crabby in my posts here earlier today, mostly due to just feeling crabby in general. No hard feelings of course, GNF (even if we still disagree about authorial motivation and hold different experiences with the book).


message 33: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 12:47AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Sleeping is the pits. So much happens overnight.

@Whitaker, Msg 33: Il faut que tu deviens un avocat immediatement! C'etait bien ecrit. Merci beaucoup, mon cher ami.

@MFSO, Msg 33: No hard feelings. I was wondering if I had a false impression that you did not seem to be your usual lucid and even-handed self. I hope the crabbiness departs, although I'm happy to engage in debate in whatever state you find yourself - no slight to your crustaceous feelings intended.

I think Whitaker has stated my case admirably - perhaps he can be persuaded to write my reviews in future.


message 34: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 12:49AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Michael wrote: "This idea resonates with me the same way it does for MFSO. I don't see writing fiction ..."

Thank you for your opinion again, Michael. I won't reproduce your entire post, because if I've understood correctly, your main point is about the motivation of the writer and his/her expression and manipulation of subject material, both personal and external, to create. I will also respond to your point about McCarthy's change in circumstance.

A most amazing writer Umberto Eco deals with the topic of for whom a writer writes, both from the standpoint of an academic (writing non-fiction) and as a writer of fiction. I found it a strange coincidence to be reading McCarthy and forming my opinion, while at the same time delving into On Literature, in which he makes the case for the writer, personal experiences notwithstanding, to write for his/her audience. (On an aside - is this not true of your reviews on GR?). I would refer you to Eco, because my pitiful attempts to explain this perspective are no doubt the reason that we appear to have such divergent views, and a reading of Eco would perhaps, if not alter your opinion, at least explicate this position in a more robust way.

McCarthy has stated himself that dialogue between father and son is verbatim from his interactions with his son. I will look up the reference and post it in for you - off the top of my head I think it was a newspaper interview?

Indeed you are correct in a non-contextual analysis that McCarthy is a rich (?) author in an insular pre-dystopic setting. Precisely. The world is now already dystopic in many places, but McCarthy only sees the future crumbling of his own world. Unreasonably of me, I would have preferred that he acknowledged that future already exists. We live in a dystopia now, even if those of us who are insulated from it are unaware through lack of personal experience or unwillingness to acknowledge or what other personal (and valid, on the basis of freedom of choice) frame of reference prevents that awareness.

While this again may be unfair of me, and I would need to revisit all biographical details available on McCarthy, my impression on reading about him was that he welcomed obscurity and cared little for anything except the pursuit of his art (2 failed marriages and comments by his ex-wives would seem to substantiate this, although of course sour grapes may be the basis for the latter), until fairly recently, and coincidentally, with his writing of The Road. We have Hunger Games for the YA audience, and The Road for adults...this shouts to me of clever analysis on the part of both authors of the zeitgeist and a deliberate construction, for the purposes of harnessing sentiment with no better motive than monetary, and in the case of McCarthy, self-validation.

That sounds very harsh and unfair, of course, and I do perhaps deserve a beating for even postulating such a fraud. However, these works reek to me of emotional and intellectual dishonesty.


message 35: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker G N wrote: "However, these works reek to me of emotional and intellectual dishonesty."

Hah! This is where I play devil's advocate. :-)

Which parts of the text or story come across as dishonest to you? And why?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, please feel free to back up your claims with anything remotely specific and with some sort of argument whatsoever.


message 37: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 01:07AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Gosh MFSO, I really seem to have gotten under your skin. I'm sorry. I refer you back to the review, because we seem to be bogged down here in the thread and playing ping-pong. I have no endurance for repetition. I have a lousy serve, and an even worse back-hand.

Whitaker, you are always welcome to play the devil.

Right up in the top corner of tags, I believe 'unfinished' is highlighted. As you point out, my reading of McCarthy was tainted by biographical details. Therefore the whole construction comes across as dishonest. I realise that is a poor response, and often I cannot account for an instinctive feeling, nor give it adequate voice. It just is an 'is' for me.

To be honest, the large number of emotional responses by other people count as evidence as well. I lament this. Because I wish these responses were for the real bearers of suffering - that was what I wanted to convey in my review, and which I think does a better job by analogy than my direct explication here in the trenches.

Is that a cop-out? Probably. But the preceding comments in the thread would surely predict this response, as well?


message 38: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 31, 2010 01:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Because I wish these responses were for the real bearers of suffering

And here we are back to this weirdness. What gives you the right to say that people feeling emotional responses to a book somehow subtracts or dulls their emotional responses to other things, such as the unbelievable amount of unnecessary suffering that exists in the world? Where are you drawing this conclusion from? Seems to me that you're drawing it from nothing but some very unwarranted gut-feeling-derived assumptions and goofy ones at that. You act like this book is diverting some non-replenishable reserves of empathy and compassion from starving children, selfishly soaking up people's kindness supply. And that's frankly loony. Do I have to explain why? Just think about it for a second.


message 39: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 01:58AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca And here we are back to this weirdness. What gives you the right to say that people feeling emotional responses to a book som..."

MFSO, I have no desire to continue what, in my limited and laughable perspective, seems to be degenerating from ping-pong into specious mud-slinging. I also wish your sentences were less of the 'you' and more of the 'I'. This might be a reflection on my definition of emotional honesty, of course.

I fear I must remain loony. According to such logic I have no right to personal expression, therefore I am mute. We have extremely differing perspectives. Please refer back to the review for further clarification.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Your review doesn't clarify any of this stuff. You're just refusing to respond to anything directly. Fine. You want to make strong claims but you can't back them up or respond to counter-attacks. It's just frustrating to engage with. I mean, just explain why you think McCarthy's book somehow takes people's attention away from real life tragedies. I think it's a fair question given all that you've said about it. Do you not have reasons behind your harsh indictments or what?


message 41: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca "Your review doesn't clarify any of this stuff. You're just refusing to respond to anything directly. Fine. You want to make strong claims but you can't back them up or respond to counter-attacks..."

I'm sorry to be frustrating. I've tried to explain. Let me give you an example. We're now at Msg 41. We could have been discussing a means to change the world.

And thus, I'm hoist on my own petard.


message 42: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 06:52AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca MFSO, I know you hold David Foster Wallace in high esteem, and I've been reading Paul Bryant's review of American Psycho. A DFW comment on Ellis turned up @Msg 34 and I wondered whether he has made any mention of McCarthy. I'm still investigating, and perhaps you can shed light. All I've found so far is a one line sentence on Blood Meridian (1988), "Don't even ask", under the title "Five direly under-appreciated US novels" which he contributed to Salon in 1999. I wonder what DFW would have said about The Road, given his comment on Ellis?

However, it seems I'm not alone in saying that McCarthy was no longer at his brilliant best by the time he wrote The Road. Playing on heartstrings at a senior age isn't so uncommon.

And I'm still posting about this, instead of engaging you in working out how to solve current world problems. I should be gagged.


message 43: by Brad (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad I am actually a fan of The Road, though not without reservation (I am undecided on the ending and find the hope a bit silly. I'd have been happier with that bullet beaing used as intended). I am a much bigger fan of Blood Meridian, which is, of course, darker, more violent and far more bleak than The Road. So I don't feel the way you do about the book (or McCarthy), GN, but I think I understand where you're coming from.

It seems to me that you're annoyed and even angry about authors who create other worlds (future dystopias, fictional violence) when they are faced with possible expressions of real world dystopias that they ignore, and that your frustration with McCarthy's personal motivation for writing The Road springs out of that. I imagine it feels too personal for you when there are greater concerns beyond the McCarthy home.

I don't get the sense that you are saying McCarthy has no right to do what he's done, nor that his writing has no artistic merit (just merit that doesn't match your taste) -- and I imagine you'd fight for his right to write however he wants -- but that you'd rather read something less allegorical and more focused on our own dystopic problems.

Whereas for many people, and I am guessing MFSO is one of those (I know I am), McCarthy's more personal take on the dystopia (which has many shapes throughout his darkest novels) does appeal to them, and maybe even speaks to them metaphorically about the issues you're concerned with.

I hope I haven't just muddied things further.


message 44: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Now if I could only express myself half so well as you have done, Brad. Thank you.

Sorry if that sounds a bit fan-boyish. I hope MFSO finds your logic equally lucid.


message 45: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 31, 2010 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Brad, do you understand why GN thinks The Road is stealing empathy away from real life tragedies? I don't think GN's going to ever even try to explain this one to me, no matter how many different ways I ask.


message 46: by Brad (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad It is something like the rise of reality television (only a dystopian version). That reality television (and I don't have evidence of this beyond my own observations) seems to remove people from their own conflicts by way of viewing packaged and mediated conflicts that have the sheen of reality but aren't really. This seems to make many people even worse at dealing with their own conflicts, or makes them increasingly avoid conflict altogether.

Perhaps GN is suggesting the same thing with The Road. That McCarthy's dystopia creates a comfortable dystopia because it is a fictional one (and a fictional no specifics which could ground it in some kind of "reality") that thereby "steals empathy away from real life tragedies" because some readers of it spend their empathy in The Road and have nothing left for the real world problems. They feel they've lived through something painful, cried for somethign painful, and then are able to turn off the painful realities more easily for having done so.

I dunno ... I'm just writing as I think, so this could be a big mess.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Okay, so you'd rather read about real world dystopias? Do you similarly loathe all books that aren't about real world dystopias? No? Then this criticism makes no sense when narrowly applied to The Road. How can you hold a book responsible for not being about exactly what you want it to be about? Again, this would be like criticizing Hamlet for not having talking robots in it.


Esteban del Mal Brad wrote: "It is something like the rise of reality television (only a dystopian version). That reality television (and I don't have evidence of this beyond my own observations) seems to remove people from th..."

Hmm. That seems like a stretch to me, Brad. (Sorry to butt in here.) By that logic, Uncle Tom's Cabin would have prolonged slavery.

Great thread!


message 50: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Dec 31, 2010 08:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio That's a valiant explanatory effort there Brad, but I still think it's kinda bogus. I just feel like one could launch this criticism at reading for pleasure in general or all the many other leisurely distractions (like writing reviews on GR) we engage and that if anything, at least The Road has people thinking about big apocalyptic issues and about what really matters in life, etc, etc. At least it has this going for it -- unlike totally escapist literature (ironically the kind GN claims to love and prefer to literary fiction) one can find in all genres but perhaps especially the fantasy genre -- despite the fact that real world images of exposed rib cages and polluted rivers are left out. Imagine that, in a fictional book that focuses in the perspective of a father and son. How dare it leave out the facts about Darfur or clear cutting??

Do your favorite fantasy titles sufficiently direct empathy toward those who suffer greatly in the real world, GN? Do mass market paperback tales of dragons and wizards somehow send aid to starving children unlike selfish ol' Cormac's book whose only goal was to make the world feel bad for his elderly parenting situation while scooping up the accolades?


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