Chris and Yuri's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Apr 08, 08

Recommended to Chris and Yuri by: Shad Springer
Read in April, 2008

After an apocalypse whose name or cause is never given, a father and son wander through the ruins of the world without any plan except to stay alive.

Of this book, my friend Shad said that it contains one of the most terrifying passages he has ever read; the coworker who lent it to me, Steve, says it is the only novel that has ever made him weep.

My experience reading it was both harrowing and tender. A bleak universe opens up inside you, but you believe in the father, you believe in his steadiness, his resourcefulness, and his unmitigated love for his son, the way you believe in the idea of civilization itself.

He marvels at blackened, moldering books in the charred ruins of a library, knowing that before the end of the world, he took it for granted that such places were build "upon an expectation."

In the ruins of a Spanish boat, he finds a box containing a sextant, a marvel of old world craftsmanship, the kind of beautiful thing that humans are capable of making. It is "the first thing in a long time that stirred him," and yet, knowing the hard math of survival, he simply puts the sextant back in its box and abandons it.

Steve said that at times the book was so minimalist it made him think of Beckett. But throughout, McCarthy threads in some rare and lovely words, nature words, obscure words, even some invented compounds (“counterspectacle”), all of which made me think of the poet Galway Kinnell (see The Book of Nightmares). These rare words and poetic figures shine out of the otherwise spare and bleak sentences like one of the faintly glimmering, scavengeable items the father and son find in the ruined world: a can of peaches; a flare pistol; a shopping cart with working wheels.

The language is both spare (the father and son are never named) and lyrical ("There is no prophet in the history of the earth who is not honored here today.") But the spareness lends itself to allegory. The bare bones road and survival story ends up sounding in the deep on questions of God and Man ("What if I told you the boy is a God?" the father asks one survivor they come across. "Where men cannot live, gods fare no better," the old man replies); Civilization; Fatherhood; Despair and Hope.

I would read this book again if I could bear it, but I don't think I could.

"What will happen to the little boy? Who will find him?"

"Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again."
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