Kristen's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Mar 04, 08

Recommended to Kristen by: George Farrell
Read in November, 2007

** spoiler alert ** In his latest novel, The Road, Pulitzer-prize winning author Cormac McCarthy chronicles the journey of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world, where everything that made the world a beautiful place has been destroyed. Lacking civilization, the only ones that remain are victims of the unknown catastrophe desperately searching for salvation (the good guys) and those who have converted into cannibalism, victimizing passersby, to stay alive (the bad guys). The Road is a remarkably written novel, engaging the reader in a world of despair and hopelessness with language arranged so elegantly, it leaves images in your mind you never would have dreamed of.

The father and son, both unnamed and without age, are suffering from starvation, the suicide of a wife and mother, and winter’s frigid weather. They embark on a journey to reach the southeastern United States, in order to have a chance at life in a warm climate, with the knowledge that they may not be able to survive the winter. The father is devoted to keeping his son safe from attack and somewhat adequately nourished while trying to avoid thoughts of his wife’s death that seem to haunt both him and the son throughout the story. They find abandoned carts and houses full of food, but not without consequence. Human remains are scattered all over the landscape and the child has seen so much more than any adult in our world has likely ever witnessed. Despite having a childhood tainted with such gruesomeness, the son seems to be certain there exists some kind of ethical humanity beyond the melancholic road they are traveling.

As a student with grammatical and mechanical rules embedded into my brain, I couldn’t help but cringe at the run-on, punctuation-less sentences; but as a lover of words and the power that they hold, I put my years of English class knowledge behind me and embraced the fantastic imagery. The world McCarthy creates is so dreary that when he refers to “dead limbs” in the woods, one cannot be sure whether he means broken tree branches or human extremities. He paints such a dull, gloomy life that even the snowflakes, one of nature’s most beautiful and intricate creations, are gray from the ash covering the earth.

McCarthy makes us wonder what our own lives would be like post-apocalypse. He forces us to question ourselves: Would I be able to survive? Would I have the strength to bear all the things that they have endured? There are no laws, no rules to live by, no sense of order in that world. The only true form of currency is the heartache those who are still alive feel for their past, present, and future.

At first, I thought the only shortcoming of this novel lay in the conversation between father and son. The age of the son is unknown, though it is a common conception that he between six and eight years old. Repetitive and monotonous, I initially considered the dialogue hard to accept as realistic between a father and a child of that age. The more I thought about it, however, the more I came to believe that the exchanges of words were a mere representation of the world they lived in, which is exactly that: repetitive and monotonous. I suppose in a life after the apocalypse, there is nothing left to say. All the stories have been told, all questions have been asked, all memories have been recalled.

McCarthy’s choice of words in The Road create graphic and disturbing images in your mind. He describes a house filled with human bodies, both dead and barely alive, kept hostage by cannibalistic maniacs. He goes into great detail about the bodies strewn about, burned alive in their final resting place. Though his imagery bordered terrifying at times, what upset me the most was the colossal fear and desperation that lead the father to hand his son a pistol and tell him to commit suicide if the bad guys found him. “If they find you you are going to have to do it. Do you understand? Shh. No crying. Do you hear me? You know how to do it. You put it in your mouth and point up. Do it quick and hard. Stop crying. Do you understand?” The idea of that tore through me; I couldn’t wrap my mind around such a horrific experience for a child.

For a novel in which nothing major occurs or is accomplished, The Road has a stunning way of keeping the reader engaged. It is simply a story of a journey for a father and son who are just trying to stay alive. Cormac McCarthy truly has a gift for language and creates a world for the reader he or she never would have imagined. The fluidity of words makes for a graceful storytelling of the unconscionable. While The Road offers a dark, gloomy post-apocalyptic tale that is nothing short of depressing, the beautiful vocabulary and imagery are what makes it so difficult to put down. I recommend this novel to those who are intrigued by language, and take time to think about life in ways they have never before.


~ wrote this for class
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