J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Apr 01, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: novel, fiction, reviewed, post-apocalyptic, america
Recommended to J.G. Keely by: Mother
Read in May, 2008

The Road is unsteady and repetitive--now aping Melville, now Hemingway--but it is less a seamless blend than a reanimated corpse: sewn together from dead parts into a lumbering, incongruous whole, then jolted to ignoble half-life by McCarthy’s grand reputation with Hollywood Filmmakers and incestuous award committees.

In '96, NYU Professor Alan Sokal submitted a paper for publication to several scientific journals. He made it so complex and full of jargon the average person wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of it. He wrote a conclusion that would deliberately flatter the preconceptions of the journals he submitted it to. As he predicted, it was accepted and published, despite the fact that it was all complete nonsense.

The Sokal Affair showed the utter incompetence of these trusted judges. They were unable to recognize good (or bad) arguments and were mostly motivated by politics. The accolades showered upon works like The Road have convinced me that the judges of literature are just as incompetent (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). Unlike Sokol, McCarthy didn't do it purposefully, he just writes in an ostentatiously empty style which is safe and convenient to praise.

Many have lauded his straightforward prose, and though I am not the most devoted fan of Hemingway, I can admire the precision and economy of a deliberate, economical use of words. Yet that was not what I got from The Road:
"He took out the plastic bottle of water and unscrewed the cap and held it out and the boy came and took it and stood drinking. He lowered the bottle and got his breath and he sat in the road and crossed his legs and drank again. Then he handed the bottle back and the man drank and screwed the cap back on and rummaged through the pack. The ate a can of white beans, passing it between them, and he threw the empty tin into the woods.

Then they set out down the road again."

Simple? Yes. Precise and purposeful? Hrdlt. The Road is as elegant as a laundry list (if not as well punctuated). Compiling a long and redundant series of unnecessary descriptions is not straightforward, but needlessly complicated.

We're supposed to find this simplicity profound--that old postmodern game of defamiliarization, making the old seem new, showing the importance of everyday events--but McCarthy isn't actually changing the context, he's just restating. There is no personality in it, no relationship to the plot, no revealing of the characters.

Perhaps it is meant to show their weariness: they cannot even muster enough energy to participate in their own lives, but is the best way to demonstrate boredom to write paragraphs that bore the reader? A good writer can make the mundane seem remarkable, but The Road is too bare to be beautiful, and too pointless to be poignant.

Once we have been lulled by long redundancy, McCarthy abruptly switches gears, moving from the plainness of Hemingway to the florid, overwrought figurative language of Melville:
"The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves."

There is no attempt to bridge the two styles, they are forced to cohabitate, without rhyme or reason to unite them. In another sentence he describes 'dead ivy', 'dead grass' and 'dead trees' with unerring monotony, and then as if adding a punchline, declares them 'shrouded in a carbon fog'--which sounds like the world's blandest cyberpunk anthology.

Another example:
"It's snowing, the boy said. A single gray flake sifting down. He caught it in his hand and watched it expire like the last host of christendom."

McCarthy seems to be trying to reproduce the morbid religious symbolism of Melville when he plays the tattered prophet in Moby Dick. But while Melville's theology is terribly sublime and pervasive, McCarthy's is ostentatious and diminutive, like a carved molding in an otherwise unadorned room. Nowhere does he produce the staggeringly surreal otherworldliness Melville achieves in a line like "There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within".

Often, McCarthy's gilded metaphors are piled, one atop the other, in what must be an attempt to develop an original voice, but which usually sounds more like the contents of a ‘Team Edward’ notebook, left behind after poetry class:
". . . Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?

Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.

People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides. . . ."

I love how he prefaces that like an Asimov robot. Sardonic Observation: I'd almost believe he was one, since he has no understanding of beauty or human emotion. Biting Quip: However, he violates Asimov's first law, since his awkward prose harms human ears.

Sometimes, smack in the middle of a detailed description of scraping paint with a screwdriver, we suddenly get a complex jargon term which few readers would understand. These terms are neither part of the world, nor are they aspects of specialized character knowledge, so I cannot assign them any meaning in the text.

One of the basic lessons for any beginning writer is 'don't just add big words because you can', it's self-indulgent and doesn't really help the story. It would be one thing if it were a part of some stylistic structure instead of bits of out-of-place jargon that conflict with the overall style of the book--more textual flotsam for us to wade through.

The longer I read, the more mirthlessly dire it became, and the less I found I could take it seriously. Every little cluster of sentences left on its own as a standalone chapter, every little two-word incomplete sentence trying to demand importance because it actually had punctuation (a rare commodity), every undifferentiated monosyllabic piece of non-dialogue like a hobo talking to himself--it all made the book overblown and nonsensical.

It just stared me down, like a huge drunk guy in a bar daring me to laugh at his misspelled tattoo. And I did. I don't know if my coworkers or the people on the bus knew what 'The Road' was about (it was years before the movie), but they had to assume it was one hilarious road, with a busfull of nuns hiding a convict in disguise on the run from a bumbling southern sheriff and his deputy; a donkey is involved.

Without mentioning specifics, I will say the notorious ending of the book is completely tacked on, in no way fits with or concludes any of the emotional build of the book, but instead wraps up, neat and tight. It certainly bears out McCarthy's admission on Oprah that he "had no idea where it was going" when he wrote it. We can tell, Cormac.

As you may have noticed from the quotes, another notorious issue is the way the book is punctuated, which is to say, it isn't. The most complex mark is the a rare comma. It's not like McCarthy is only using simple, straightforward sentences, either---he fills up on conjoined clauses and partial sentence fragments, he just doesn't bother to mark any of them.

He also doesn't use any quotes in the books, and rarely attributes statements to characters, so we must first try to figure out if someone is talking, or if it's just another snatch of 'poetic license', and then determine who is talking. Sure, Melville did away with quotes in one chapter in Moby Dick, but he did it in stylistic reference to Shakespeare, and he also seemed to be aware that it was a silly affectation best suited to a ridiculous scene.

It's not only the structure, grammar, figurative language, and basic descriptions which are so absurdly lacking: the characters are likewise flat, dull, and repetitive. Almost every conversation between the father and son is the same:
Father: Do it now.
Son: I'm scared.
Father: Just do it.
Son: Are we going to die?
Father: No.
Son: Are you sure?
Father: Yes.

Remember, you won't get little tags so you know who's speaking, it'll all just be strung out in a line without differentiation. Then they wander around for a bit or run from crazy people, and we finally get the cap to the conversation:
Son: Why did (terrible thing) just happen?
Father: (Stares off in silence)
Son: Why did (terrible thing) just happen?
Father: (More silence)

And that’s it, the whole relationship; it never changes or grows. Nor does it seem to make much sense. The characters are always together, each the other's sole companion: father and son, and yet they are constantly distant and at odds, like a suburban parent and child who rarely see each other and have little in common. McCarthy never demonstrates how such a disconnect arose between two people who are constantly intimate and reliant on one another.

But then, McCarthy confided to Oprah that the is book about his relationship with his own son, so it makes sense why the emotional content is completely at odds with the setting. Perhaps he just sat down one say and thought “I’m an award-winning author and screenwriter who has a somewhat distant relationship with my son. You know what that’s like? That’s like the unendurable physical suffering of people in the third world who are trying to find food and escape crazed, murderous mobs.” So then he wrote a book equating the two, which is about the most callous, egotistical act of privileged self-pity a writer can indulge in.

At least now I know why the characters and their reactions don’t make much sense. The boy is constantly terrified, and his chief role involves pointing at things and screaming, punctuating every conflict in the book, like a bad horror film. Cannibals and dead infants are an okay (if cliche) place to start when it comes to unsettling the reader, but just having the characters react histrionically does not build tension, especially when the characters are too flat to be sympathetic in the first place. Another Creative Writing 101 lesson: if you have to resort to over-the-top character reactions to let the audience know how they are supposed to feel, then your 'emotional moment' isn't working. It's the literary equivalent of a laugh track.

You know what’s more unsettling than a child screaming when he finds a dead infant? A child not screaming when he finds a dead infant. And really, that’s the more likely outcome. The young boy has never known another world--his world is death and horror. Anyone who has seen a picture of a Rwandan boy with an AK can see how children adapt to what’s around them. And you know what would make a great book? A father who remembers the old world trying to prevent his son from becoming a callous monster because of the new one.

But no, we get a child who inexplicably reacts as if he’s used to the good life in suburbia and all this death and killing is completely new to him, even though we’ve watched him go through it half a dozen times already. The characters never grow numb to it, they never seem to suffer PTSD, their reactions are more akin to angst.

Every time there is a problem, the characters just fold in on themselves and give up. People really only do that when they have the luxury of sitting about and ruminating on what troubles them. When there is a sudden danger before us, we might run, or freeze, but there’s hardly time to feel sorry for ourselves.

There is no joy or hope in this book--not even the fleeting, false kind. Everything is constantly bleak. Yet human beings in stressful, dangerous situations always find ways to carry on: small victories, justifications, or even lies and delusions. The closest this book gets is ‘The Fire’, which is the father’s term for why they must carry on through all these difficulties. But replace ‘The Fire’ with ‘The Plot’ and you’ll see what effect is achieved: it’s not character psychology, but authorial convenience. Apparently, McCarthy cannot even think of a plausible reason why human beings would want to survive.

There is nothing engaging about a world sterilized of all possibility. People always create a way out, even when there is none. What is tragic is not a lack of hope, but misplaced hope. I could perhaps appreciate a completely empty world as a writing exercise, but as McCarthy is constantly trying to provoke emotional reactions, he cannot have been going for utter bleakness.

The Road is a canvas painted black, so it doesn't mater how many more black strokes he layers on top: they will not stand out because there is no contrast, there is no depth, no breaking or building of tension, just a constant addition of featureless details to a featureless whole. Some people seem to think that an emotionally manipulative book that makes people cry is better than one that makes people horny--but at least people don’t get self-righteous about what turns them on.

This is tragedy porn. Suburban malaise is equated with the most remote and terrible examples of human pain. So, dull housewives can read it and think ‘yes, my ennui is just like a child who stumbles across a corpse’, and perhaps she will cry, and feel justified in doing so. Or a man might read it and think ‘yes, my father was distant, and it makes me feel like I live alone in a hostile world I don’t care to understand’; he will not cry, but he will say that he did.

And so the privileged can read about how their pain is the same as the pain of those starving children they mute during commercial breaks. In the perversity of modern, invisible colonialism--where a slave does not wash your clothes, but builds the machine that washes them--these self-absorbed people who have never starved or had their lives imperiled can think of themselves as worldly, as ‘one with humanity’, as good, caring people.

They recycle. They turn the water off when they brush their teeth. They buy organic. They even thought about joining the Peace Corps. Their guilt is assuaged. They are free to bask in their own radiant anguish.

And it all depresses me--which makes me a shit, because I’m no more entitled to it than any other well-fed, educated winner of the genetic lottery. So when I read this book, I couldn’t sympathize with that angst and think it justified, just like I couldn’t with Holden’s. I know my little existential crisis isn’t comparable to someone who has really lost control of their life, who might actually lose life.

But this kind of egotistical detachment has become typical of American thought, and of American authors, whose little, personal, insular explorations don't even pretend to look at the larger world. Indeed, there is a self-satisfied notion that trying to look at the world sullies the pure artist.

And that 'emotionally pure, isolated author' is what we get from the Oprah interview. Sure, she's asking asinine questions, but McCarthy shows no capacity to discuss either craft or ideas, refusing to take open-ended questions and discuss writing, he instead laughs condescendingly and shrugs. Then again, he may honestly not have much insight on the topic.

Looked at in this way, it's not surprising he won the Pulitzer. Awards committees run on politics, and choosing McCarthy is a political decision--an attempt to declare that insular, American arrogance is somehow still relevant. But the world seems content to move ahead without America and its literature, which is why no one expects McCarthy--or any American author--to win a Nobel any time soon.

This book is a paean to the obliviousness of American self-importance in our increasingly global, undifferentiated world. One way or the other, it will stand as a testament to the last gasp of a dying philosophy: either we will collapse under our own in-fighting and short-sightedness, or we will be forced to evolve into something new and competitive--a bloated reputation will carry you only so far.

But then, the Pulitzer committee is renowned for picking unadventurous winners--usually an unremarkable late entry by an author past their prime. As William Gass put it:
"the prize is simply not given to work of the first rank, rarely even to the second; and if you believed yourself to be a writer of that eminence, you are now assured of being over the hill"

To any genre reader, this book will have a familiar and unpleasant taste, the same one LeGuin has often lamented: that of the big name author slumming. They pop into fantasy or sci fi with their lit fic credentials to show us little folk 'how it's really done'--but know nothing about the genre or its history, and just end up reinventing the wheel, producing a book that would have been tired and dated thirty years ago. Luckily for such writers, none of their lit fic critics know anything about other genres--any sort of bland rehash will feel fresh to them, as long as you have the name-recognition to get them to look in the first place.

So, McCarthy gets two stars for a passable (if cliche) script for a sci fi adventure movie, minus one star for unconscionable denigration of human suffering. I couldn't say if McCarthy's other books are any good; I will probably try another, just to see if any part of his reputation is deserved, but this one certainly didn't help. All I see is another author who got too big for his editors and, finding himself free to write whatever he wanted--only proved that he no longer has anything worth saying.

"Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are merely lists ... Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing--flat characters, a narrative world that's ... not recognizably human, etc.--is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world ... most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is?"

-David Foster Wallace
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Reading Progress

02/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 301-350 of 805) (805 new)


Douglas I am sorry, Keely, but I have to disagree with your premise and conclusions about this book. I am not very long-winded, so I wont go into detail why I think you are wrong, just let it stand that I think your novel-length criticism was off the mark.


J.G. Keely Thanks for the comment. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't put much stock in unsupported opinions put forth by readers of five-page novels.


message 303: by Glenn (new)

Glenn I was recently being told by my friend about how much he hated the road despite glowing recommendations from his friends and I told his about goodreads and he made me look up reviews of the road for him. After squeling in delight to himself for 15 minutes he made me listen to him read aloud your review with numerous 'that's what I thoughts' and 'this is what I told thems'. He said you put him at ease with hating a book which all his friends loved all the while suspecting it was the most derivative, cliched piece of hack Hollywood screenwriting he's ever read.


J.G. Keely Well, there is the adage that if you search long enough on the internet, you'll find someone who agrees with you, but it seems more meaningful to agree on specific points rather than generalities. I'm glad I helped someone recognize that they aren't alone against the wide sea.


message 305: by Tamyka (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tamyka Bell This is a really, really long review. I lost interest. I didn't lose interest in The Road.


message 306: by Jake (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jake Miller brian wrote: "yeah, this review is way off. it seems, almost, as if its author actually chose a deliberately simplified response to the book. nonetheless, check it:

1) "The entire book seems to stem from the ..."


I think you nailed it right on the head, to me Keely's opinion on the dispositions of the characters and feel of the book are way off and down right erroneous to what I garnered from reading the novel.

Yea he has a somewhat simplistic and almost down right belaboring writing style in some instances but I think overall the book was wonderful and you pointed out plenty of areas that Keely seems to have missed, obviously like most novels these things are open to interpretation, all I can say is I could feel for the characters; even past the simplistic writing.


message 307: by World (new) - rated it 5 stars

World Eater Sometimes I'm glad I don't have a great literary mind because it seems like it would be really damn hard to enjoy books.

Anyway, an insightful review however I thought you went over the line in some respects. You can make anything sound dumb by oversimplifying it.


J.G. Keely "Sometimes I'm glad I don't have a great literary mind because it seems like it would be really damn hard to enjoy books."

I guess to me, that's like saying "I'm glad I can't afford to eat at a nice restaurant because it would make it harder to enjoy McDonalds" or "I'm glad I've never seen Paris because it might make Omaha seem less exciting". The reason The Road is lackluster to me is because I have experienced so many amazing, beautiful books.

I have searched for wonder and beauty and I have found it many times over, and that's what has motivated me to develop my own 'literary mind', that constant search for new experiences of aching beauty. If those experiences make it hard to enjoy an average book, like The Road, I don't mind, because for every small thing I lose along the way, I gain something great, so in the end, I come out better than I was before.


message 309: by Annis (New Dimensions Reviews) (last edited Jun 21, 2012 09:32AM) (new)

Annis (New Dimensions Reviews) Keely, I have not read this book yet but you made a very strong case against his work (and that of other writers of his ilk). I just wanted to say I really appreciate that, seeing that the simplistic, disguised-as-nihilistic approach combined with an inflated sense of self-importance (that shows in their writing) in most "big" American authors is getting worse and worse. It's the exact reason why I avoid a reading a lot from what is supposed to be the established US literary elite. There are much more profound and interesting books to spend my time on. Thank you for the completely honest review and I loved that you mentioned the Sokal affair.

As for the person who claimed that McCarthy is "even more revered in Europe" than he is in America, I can only shake my head and laugh.


message 310: by World (new) - rated it 5 stars

World Eater Keely wrote: ""Sometimes I'm glad I don't have a great literary mind because it seems like it would be really damn hard to enjoy books."

I guess to me, that's like saying "I'm glad I can't afford to eat at a ni..."


I think those analogies are unfair. The Road was a good book to me for one reason only: I enjoyed the characters. I thought they felt real and I was thoroughly invested in their well-being. I mean ultimately the story was about these two characters, there isn't really a plot and there isn't really a setting. It also appealed to my love for post-apocalyptic survival horror type books so maybe I'm a little biased but vOv. You say you hate his pretentious metaphors and language but it was pretty hard to take you seriously as you condescendingly spoke about how horrible suburban America was and how they just don't understand, in their colossal ignorance, very much of anything. And how american literature is pretty much worthless and there isn't a living american author who deserves to be writing.

I went and read some of your reviews out of curiosity, and just as I suspected, if it's not a firmly entrenched classic, you uniformly despise it. Except for a book about horse porn or something, I don't know. I think your so damn caught up with what "good" literature is that you can't go into a story without a thousand preconceptions about what it SHOULD look like. Just my two cents. Then again, I'm a product of the disconnected, ignorant suburbia so feel free to disregard me.


J.G. Keely Annis said: "I really appreciate that, seeing that the simplistic, disguised-as-nihilistic approach combined with an inflated sense of self-importance (that shows in their writing) in most "big" American authors is getting worse and worse."

Thanks, I'm glad the review made sense to you. It is a problem in a lot of literary and award spheres, and one which has not gone unrecognized by critics and thinkers.

World said: "It also appealed to my love for post-apocalyptic survival horror type books so maybe I'm a little biased"

I am actually a fan of survival horror and post-apocalyptic stories, and that was part of the reason I didn't like The Road, I did not find that it stood out as imaginative or well-written compared to other works in the genre. It's part of the reason I read it in the first place, and I found it even more disappointing because it did not do the subgenre justice.

"it was pretty hard to take you seriously as you condescendingly spoke about how horrible suburban America was and how they just don't understand"

I never said that. The suburban life experience and all the pains and difficulties that go into it are a perfectly valid experience to write about.

However, it doesn't make sense to me to equate those experiences with the problems of an African civil war victim. Those are two drastically different stories, and the fact that McCarthy's characters respond to death and destruction with suburban depression does not make sense, and is insensitive to the struggles and experiences of people who have actually had to live through poverty and war.

"And how . . . there isn't a living american author who deserves to be writing."

There are plenty of living American authors who I enjoy and I think deserve popularity and accolades. My problem is with the entrenched system of critics and committees that keep those great writers down in favor of big name authors who haven't innovated in decades and must resort to the sort of predictable pandering McCarthy shows here.

"if it's not a firmly entrenched classic, you uniformly despise it"

So The Hitchhiker's Guide, Calvin and Hobbes, Belgian comic books, and modern Fantasy and Sci Fi are entrenched classics now? Or maybe you meant the pulp adventures, TV novelizations, and roleplaying books? Beyond that, there are plenty of established 'classics' that I don't think particularly highly of.

". . . I'm a product of the disconnected, ignorant suburbia so feel free to disregard me."

It seems to me that you are trying to disregard me by painting me as an effete snob, which may be convenient for you, but that doesn't make it true. I like things which are written well, independent of when they were written, or by who, or what genre they inhabit--just as I dislike things that are inconsistent and unoriginal.


message 312: by [deleted user] (new)

@keely its obvious that the reason you wrote such a long review is because your tiny little brain cannot comprehend one of the greatest literary and possibly philosophical minds ever to grace America, i advise you to get a life and stop alienating yourself from the sensebilities of civilized people, good day sir.


J.G. Keely Hmm, you'd think if McCarthy was so great, it would be pretty easy to state why and refute the central points in my review. Then again, the unironic use of the phrase 'get a life' is tantamount to proof that a comment contains neither anything sensible nor civilized.


message 315: by Amanda (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amanda I liked the book well enough, but I do want to say that this is a brilliant review.


Jonathan I wonder if one day some PHD student will come along and use this thread as source material. They could write a whole thesis on the differences existing between the concept of debating and the reality of it unfolding (in other words how it often turns into a chaotic mess).


J.G. Keely Well, if they need some data to mine, I have quite a few reviews with comment threads that ought to serve.

Amanda said: "I liked the book well enough, but I do want to say that this is a brilliant review."

Wow, thank you, that's very kind of you to say. It's nice when people who agree with my tastes tell me they like my reviews, but when someone who disagrees with me still finds something they appreciate, it makes me feel that I may have written something worth writing.

Pablo said: http://continuumliterarystudies.typep...

Having read a fair amount of criticism in my studies, I have to say the choice quotes they give in the summary of that book look like a lot of buzzword-filled publish-or-perish nonsense:

"style as what negates, but also as what succumbs to, the entropic horizon of what, inexorably, is."

That is terrible, uncommunicative structure. If anyone can give me a reason that this is the best way to get an idea across, I would be very impressed. This is some Politics and the English Language-level nonsense right here.

"An important point to grasp here is that gray is a color that marks eventuation or transformation—it is a color that things become, as when we say the sky becomes gray."

Do we say that? How is that a demonstrative example? I know Derrida thought it was fine to just make up your own symbology and write as if it were real, but I remain unconvinced.

the black-grey or the ash gray—is anti dialectical

This really reads like a satire of bad criticism.

I mean, it's certainly possible that the book contains some strong arguments for what McCarthy achieves and how he achieves it, and perhaps someone who likes The Road will read it and tell me why I'm wrong--but all I'm seeing from this summary is the same empty stylistic posturing and pretension that I felt The Road suffered from. Then again, it would make sense that critics who were trained in meta-criticism and fill-in-the-blank symbology would react to a book full of the same vague and disconnected allusions to profundity.


message 318: by Tori (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tori This review is spot on. I can look at it all sorts of ways, as I'm sure I will get to when my book club meets to discuss it, but essentially, I don't get why it rates a Pulitzer. Please everyone, stop beating up this reviewer! I for one applaud that someone is willing to give it a hard look - not just join the crowd of groupies nodding their heads in homage. Though I might appreciate having read it (with an emphasis on "might"), I certainly would not recommend it. This one is too dark, and the from a literary view, is not great enough in my mind to put up with the darkness for 117 pages. I stuck it out to see if there would be any closure at all, and there was some, but not enough. What happened to cause the situation the 2 travelers are thrown into? We don't know and never will. I guess we should just make that part up, or does the author think that that makes it "timeless"? All of it draws one in so that one must read to the end, but I'll be first to say that the images in-between were not worth the "wrap-up". Keely, thanks for your review - I'll be following yours from now on.


J.G. Keely ". . . essentially, I don't get why it rates a Pulitzer."

Well, if you look back at Pulitzer winners, it's not really a list of great books--it may contain a lot of great authors, but that's hardly the same thing. The Pulitzer tends to be awarded to authors who have already proven themselves, which is why a Pulitzer is often a sign that an author's best work is behind him.

More than that, the whole structure of the Pulitzer committee is problematic, made up of a lot of high-profile, busy people who don't have a lot of time for reading, and who are not fiction writers or literary critics, which is part of the reason that no prize was given out last year, despite several strong candidates.

In general, I don't tend to take the Pulitzer very seriously, based on its track record.

Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked my review, and that it made sense to you.


message 320: by Laureen (new) - rated it 1 star

Laureen I would like to ditto Tori's comments and I would have loved to write a silimar review to yours but I have neither the education nor the talent. However, I love books and my tastes have grown over the years, I think. I thought there was something wrong with my perception of this book as so many seem to thing it was wonderful AND emotionally distressing.

I believe this book was written purely to make a political point. Like Tori, I would like to know how the world became the way it is described. I guess
we were supposed to know that we humans had finally done the deed and ruined our fabulous planet.

I can't comment about the literary aspects because I am not learned enough but you expressed it so very well, I know why I "felt" something was wrong.

I believe the critics of your review are the doomsdayers who haven't the imagination to believe that our great scientists will, over the next 50 years, have the answers to so many things that we can't possibly envisage now. The world changes so fast. Here we are on the Web which was not even heard of such a short time ago.

If we went back to the days of the plague or the Great Fire of London, I will bet those people thought their world was about to end also. I wish people would get as emotional about the situation in countries with dictatorships and the wars that eventuate with the poor and the hungry being the victims. I could cry about that. I think your critics need to broaden their reading experiences. I just can't relate to the suffering issue in this book as the whole situation including the relationship between father and son is unreal to me. I am far from heartless. Many stories about the past and present both real and fictional have moved me greatly
and continue to stay in my mind.


J.G. Keely "I wish people would get as emotional about the situation in countries with dictatorships and the wars that eventuate with the poor and the hungry being the victims. I could cry about that . . . I just can't relate to the suffering issue in this book as the whole situation including the relationship between father and son is unreal to me."

I feel the same way: I wish McCarthy had presented a more realistic psychological picture of the horror of living a life in the midst of devastation. Instead he gave us whiny, depressed characters who felt more like Holden Caulfield than victims of war.

Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked my review.


message 322: by Dakota (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dakota How would he be able to present "...a more realistic psychological picture of the horror of living a life in the midst of devastation?"

I am not sure how someone can judge a fictional reality as not realistic enough. Could you accurately describe a life in the midst of devastation? If so, please share it with us.


J.G. Keely "I am not sure how someone can judge a fictional reality as not realistic enough."

I'd argue that's something readers do all the time as part of the 'suspension of disbelief'.

Imagine we have a story with a daughter character who is shown to have a loving relationship with her father, then the father dies. If the daughter is never shown to be upset by this, I think it would be pretty easy to judge that fictional reality as not being very realistic.

"Could you accurately describe a life in the midst of devastation?"

I talk about it a bit in my review, but sure. When you look at children who live under the sorts of conditions shown in The Road--children who live their whole lives running from raiding parties in a civil war--they adapt to their surroundings.

They become child soldiers, they grow desperate, they steal and cheat and after seeing their hundredth man killed, life will begin to lose its value. As Milton demonstrated, what is frightening in life is not that evil is distant and alien to us, but that it is familiar and easy to fall into.

When under constant stress, people don't get depressed and mopey, because there isn't time. When you're always on the run, fleeing death, it's exhausting and overwhelming, not saddening. Sure, people will break down, weep hysterically, and go catatonic under that kind of pressure, but they don't become sad and self-loathing, because that comes from reflection after the fact.

All over the world, there are children who see death every day, and if that's the only world they know, it's hardly going to shock or confuse them. Even when these things frighten them, it's important to realize that this is all they know, and that they will develop ways to cope. That is the situation the man and boy are in, and that's why I didn't find that the boy's psychology made sense.


message 324: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo You are too full of it. Also... The Nobel Prize does not constitute the measure of a good storyteller or author. You only fool yourself in so thinking. Also... it is my belief that you fail in the manner that you contend the author fails: as I read your "review" I detected extreme moments of subjectivity, while trying to fool me with your basely attempt at objectivity. Either you are objective or subjective, but can't be bothat the same time, mate. Reading your review constituted the worst-employed 20 minutes of my July existence so far. Congratulation on achieving that.


J.G. Keely "The Nobel Prize does not constitute the measure of a good storyteller or author."

No, it doesn't and I never said it did. I was making a point about the different political motivations of various prize committees and the sorts of agendas they support.

"Either you are objective or subjective"

Well, since I'm discussing the quality of a piece of art and not the value of the gravitational constant, I'm being subjective. however, there are different levels of subjectivity. For example, I give reasons for my arguments, and use quotes to support my position, which is less wantonly subjective, because it is possible to disagree with and refute those specific statements.

Contrarily, your state of opinions without putting forth any argument or refutation, which is an example of arbitrary subjectivity which adds nothing to a discussion. Based on that, I'd say at least the time you spent reading my review was better employed than the time you spent trying to respond to it.


message 326: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo And another thing... for someone who didn't like the bloody book, you spent more than 15 pages explaining why... I mean, honestly. I can see right through you. Talk about pretentious.


message 327: by Michael (new) - rated it 1 star

Michael Keely - I commented about this ages ago but just wanted to say I LOVE your review - very intelligent, well thought out and well presented. Thanks for being a beacon in the night.


message 328: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo Oh, I'm a very fast reader, particularly when I read through codswallop.


message 329: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo LMFAO

Dakota wrote: "Haha, why are you still posting here? I used to nerdrage online a lot too, then I moved out of my mom's house..."


message 330: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo Oh, the arrogance...

Keely wrote: "Thanks for the comment. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't put much stock in unsupported opinions put forth by readers of five-page novels."


message 331: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo Me sentiments exactly.

Tamyka wrote: "This is a really, really long review. I lost interest. I didn't lose interest in The Road."


J.G. Keely "for someone who didn't like the bloody book, you spent more than 15 pages explaining why

If you're talking about the review, it's only about five pages--which shouldn't make much of a dent in the day of an avid reader. If you're talking about the length of the comment thread, you must realize that its length is governed by the repeated visits of commentators like yourself. If you think it's ridiculous to spend that much time talking about The Road, then why open the discussion anew?

"Oh, the arrogance..."

How is it arrogant to take unsupported opinions lightly? Or are you referencing the fact that a commentator suggested a five-page review is the same length as a novel?

"Me sentiments exactly."

Ah, so the value of something is directly proportional to whether you lose interest in it? Now there's a good definition for the word 'arrogance'.

For someone who opened with an accusation of subjectivity, you certainly haven't done anything to hold yourself to a higher standard. So it was a waste of time to read my review, but it's a good use of your time to make a half-dozen Youtube-level comments lacking any idea, argument, or refutation?

"Michael said: ". . . just wanted to say I LOVE your review - very intelligent, well thought out and well presented. Thanks for being a beacon in the night."

Thank you, you're very kind to say so. Once again, I'm glad you enjoyed it.


message 333: by Meishuu (new) - added it

Meishuu Thank you this review. I'm still undecided if I want to read this or not (most likely not).


J.G. Keely Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. Hope you find something cool to read.


message 335: by Chris (new) - rated it 1 star

Chris This review summed up my thoughts on the book. I'll go further. Probably the worst book i've ever read. The dialogue between the man and the boy is beyond awful and extremely repetitive.


J.G. Keely I'm glad you liked the review, thanks for commenting.


message 337: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo I wonder if you liked Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull... you strike as one of those.


Carolanne I don't agree with your review, but wanted to say, you're an excellent writer!


message 339: by Arnab (new) - rated it 5 stars

Arnab haha! although i loved this book, and thought it was one of the best things i've ever read, this review made me laugh. it's brilliantly written, and if i didn't like the road so much, you'd probably have convinced me otherwise.


message 340: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Gross I agree....I loved the book, and I don't agree with your review; but it is so well written I really want to! Great review!


message 341: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo Oh, come on, people. This is well-written trash. Honestly. It's like saying that a fart can be well-written. Well, who knows?


message 342: by Dakota (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dakota I wish I could like all of David's comments. I agree completely.


message 343: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo ;-)


message 344: by J.G. Keely (last edited Jul 26, 2012 04:15PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

J.G. Keely David Caleb said: "I wonder if you liked Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull... you strike as one of those."

I didn't like vague symbology and false profundity from McCarthy, so why would I appreciate it from a New Age bird? Your failed attempt to typify me suggests that you do not have a very solid comprehension of where I'm coming from--or perhaps you're searching for a convenient way to discount me.

Carolanne said: "I don't agree with your review, but wanted to say, you're an excellent writer!"

Arnab said: "although i loved this book . . . this review made me laugh"

Kim said: "I loved the book, and I don't agree with your review; but it is so well written I really want to!"

Thanks to each of you--it's always nice to find people who can appreciate something even when they don't agree with it. It's satisfying to see that not everyone is just operating on their own bias--and that even when I'm wrong, I'm wrong in an interesting way. Thanks again.


message 345: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo LMFAO


J.G. Keely May the gods never curse me with such fans as McCarthy has--I'm surprised even his great reputation can survive their constant barrage of inanity. Their attempts to defend him defame him more than I ever could, demonstrating that his work holds the greatest appeal to the least capable, which is damned faint praise indeed.

It's one thing to bring a knife to a gun fight, but quite another to bring one to a peace summit.


message 347: by Scribble (last edited Jul 28, 2012 02:56AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Oh well, you're cursed with this fan. LIKE for your last comment. And I'm afraid I have only my keyboard.


message 348: by David (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo ROFL


J.G. Keely "I won't argue with you, because I don't believe in arguing against opinions."

What else would you argue against--facts?

". . . was it necessary to conjure up a great literary conspiracy to explain the book's reception?"

Popular opinion and authority are not conspiracies, even when they resemble them. Nowhere do I state that there is some deliberate purpose behind the books' reception. Instead, I am looking at arguments people have put in favor of the book: firstly, that it is popular, and secondly, that it has won prizes, and trying to determine whether either of these are actually a defense of the book's merit. for the reasons stated in my review, I have come to the conclusion that they are not.

"The prose is really very simple."

While it is often simplistic, I would not call it purposeful or precise. There are the various odd jargon terms, the detached sentence fragments, the sudden and brief attempts at poetry. The Road is not a straightforward work of realism in the vein of Conrad or Chekhov, but a symbolic and poetic one.

As for Joyce, I have discussed the complexity of his works with knowledgeable people who demonstrated to me how meaning arose logically (if diabolically) from his text. The symbology and allusion of his books intertwines on many levels to produce theme and nuance. I won't claim the books are easy or pleasant to read, but I can comprehend that they do have depth and purpose--sometimes to the exclusion of all else.

I did not find that the vague symbology of The Road coalesced similarly. I certainly might have missed something, but no one has yet been able to point out what. There are bits and pieces all over, certainly, but I am not convinced that they are useful or helpful to the book.

"I don't think McCarthy has ever aspired to Hemingway's prose style . . . surely Faulkner is considerably more appropriate"

I'd say The Road leans more to Hemingway because it is sparse and stripped, not precise and elegant. It also lacks the internal strife of Faulkner--the focus is from without, not within. We are lead to the characters through brief, repetitive, often unenlightening exchanges, not emotionally-driven interior monologues.

G N said: "Oh well, you cursed with this fan."

Well, some curses endear faster than others, though I suppose they all become familiar, in the end.


message 350: by Michael (new) - rated it 1 star

Michael "I won't argue with you, because I don't believe in arguing against opinions."

What else would you argue against--facts?


Keely you are brilliant. It's so refreshing to see someone possessing intelligence, logic, and a quick wit. Something that I find so rarely. If you are ever in or near Washington D.C. I'd love to buy you a drink. It would be an interesting night of what is sure to be stimulating conversation.


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