Robin's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Jan 31, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: bad-books, not-worth-it
Recommended to Robin by: Book Club
Recommended for: No one
Read in January, 2009 , read count: 2

** spoiler alert ** So I generally don't hate books - Recently when joining a face2face club they asked which book I disliked the most - and had no answer. Well I want to thank Cormac McCarthy for giving me something to be able to put there.

Having heard the buzz about this book and having seen the plethora of positive reviews, I felt compelled to write my own if only to be that voice of reason in a wilderness of pretentious insanity.

Cormac’s McCarthy’s The Road, I can honestly say, is the worst book I have ever read. I am stunned to find such a critical following for a novel that is so clearly bad that I have yet to meet a flesh and blood person who does not hate it, or cannot, even after the most mild inquires, explain its appeal beyond the latent thought that they “ought” to like it. To do otherwise would mark them as uncultured and ignorant. Modern art had Duchamp's toilet, and now literature has its own case of the emperor’s new clothes in, The Road.

What sets this novel apart from all others in its genre of ill-conception, is the totality of its failure. There is nothing good that can be said of it. Some virtue can be found in every book, as in the old adage—“…but she has a nice personality.” The Road breaks this rule, and soundly. From the plot and characters to the writing style and even the cover design, the book is abysmally uninspired and a black hole of skill.

Much has been made of the writing quality. Alan Cheuse, of the Chicago Tribune, and book commentator for NPR calls it “…his huge gift for language.” Let’s look at that for a moment. It is universally accepted that the first few sentences of any novel are the most crucial—the words which a writer labors over the most to get them just right. Here are the first two sentences of The Road:

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.”

I once presented these two sentences to an amateur writer’s forum and asked their opinion. Several members politely replied that the sentences were badly in need of work. Not only were they not grammatically correct, but they were awkward, confusing, used several unnecessary words and had all the rhythm and pacing of a dog with four broken legs. Nights dark beyond darkness, has got to rank up there with, it was a dark and stormy night. This is not at all an isolated example. It is merely the beginning—literally. Other laudable narrative sentences include: “The Hour.” “Of a sudden he seemed to wilt even further.” “A lake down there.”

Lest you think I am selectively picking the worst, here is the passage Mr. Cheuse used in his own review as an example of genius: “tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckonings. An old chronicle. To seek out the upright. No fall but preceded by a declination. He took great marching steps into the nothingness, counting them against his return.” What McCormac is describing here is that it is dark and the man can’t see where he is going. The author is clearly a master of communication.

Let’s also pause to consider his brilliance of dialog, and his mastery of the monosyllable conversation that make the screenplay dialog of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on par with Shakespeare. Nearly every conversation has the word “Okay,” which appears so often I began to think it was a pun, like a ventriloquist routine. One might conclude McCarthy is attempting to reflect a realistic vernacular into his work, except that the conversations are so stilted and robotic, as to lack even the faintest aroma of realism. There is no slang, no halted speech, no rambling. It is Dragnet.

First dialog in the book:
I ask you something? Yes. Of course. Are we going to die? Sometime. Not now. And we’re still going south. Yes. So we’ll be warm. Yes. Okay. Okay what? Nothing. Just okay. Go to sleep. Okay.

You’ll note that I did not use quotes in the above excerpt. That is because neither does McCarthy. There are no quotes anywhere in the book, nor are there any tags designating the speaker, which manages to successfully make determining who is speaking quite a dilemma at times. Moreover, McCarthy never provides names to his characters this forces him to use the pronoun “he” frequently which very often leaves the reader bewildered as to whether he is referring to the father or the boy.

McCarthy doesn’t stop with quotes. He rarely uses commas or apostrophes. It doesn’t appear as if he is against contractions as he uses the non-word, “dont” quite frequently. Nor is he making the statement that he can write a whole book without punctuation as he does, on rare occasions, use a comma or an apostrophe, (as you can see from the dialog segment I listed above,) as if he is going senile and merely forgot. As the lack of most of the necessary punctuation’s only result is to make it harder to read, I can only conclude that McCarthy, or his editor are the most lazy people I’ve ever heard of—although I am certain no credible editor ever saw this book. If they had I am certain we would have heard about the suicide in the papers.

One might overlook the shortcomings of writing skill if the novel’s foundation was an excellent story. Sadly, this is not the case. Not that it lacks an excellent plot—it lacks a plot. Often times writers anguish over distilling the plot of a novel into a few sentences that might fit on the back of a book cover. It is often impossible to clearly convey all that a book is in such a short span. The Road does not suffer this. Instead I would imagine that if it were possible to put this book in a microwave and evaporate all the extraneous words all you would have left is one sentence: A boy and his father travel south in a post-apocalyptic United States, then the father dies. I wonder if the blurb writer for the, The Road, realized he was also providing a spoiler for the novel so comprehensive, no one need read the book.

What the book lacks in plot it clearly makes up for in even less characterization. The father and the boy—that is about as much characterization as you will get. McCarthy doesn’t even provide names from which readers might glean some associative characteristics. We know the boy is afraid, because he says so approximately every four pages, always with the same robotic level of emotional intensity, backing it up with his many reasons, regrets and concerns as in the passage: I am scared. Likewise, the father is equally a pot bubbling over with emotional angst and frustration so vividly expressed in his response: I know. I’m sorry.

We might as well burn all our copies of Grapes of Wrath now that we have this tour de force.

As amazing as it is, with only an eggshell of plot, McCarthy manages to run afoul of logic. The boy and his father come across shelters packed with food and water, and yet the father insists they move on. Why? Because they must keep moving so as to avoid encountering others. Clearly staying in one place is the best plan to avoid meeting others, hermit do it all the time. Yes, other people might wander into you, but you double that equation if you too are roaming. The only argument for pressing on with the journey is to find others.

I am certain I am being too kind here, but given that this is a Pulitzer Prize winning, Oprah Pick, National Bestseller, I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers. Of course, Duchamp's toilet (Fountain) was once voted "the most influential modern artwork of all time".
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Reading Progress

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20.75%
01/31 page 256
100% "Justa as bad as the first time"
02/08 marked as: read

Comments (showing 36-85)





message 85: by Sandi (last edited Jan 30, 2009 04:25PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi I just noticed that I gave "The Road" two stars. Why did I do that? The more I talk about it and hear about it, the more I hate it. I think I'm going to change my original rating.

You do realize that you're going to take some flak for hating such a revered work, right? ;)

ETA--I see from my review that I originally gave it three stars. I just downgraded it for the second time.


Danielle I'm about 50 pages into this, and your review is spot-on. "I'm scared." "I know, I'm sorry." "I'm scared." "I know, I'm sorry." What terrible writing. But the overly complex similes and sentences with 10 "ands" in them are what grates on me the most. Don't know if I'll bother reading the rest of it, even though the print is giant and it shouldn't take long to finish.


message 83: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Wow, I'll take that off my list. Thank you for the input!


message 82: by Robin (new) - rated it 1 star

Robin Sandi wrote: "You do realize that you're going to take some flak for hating such a revered work, right? ;)..."

Absolutely - and I say - bring it on...I've stated my reasons for dislike - let the others give me the reasons why it is good.


message 81: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne I can only hope, for Viggo's sake, the screenplay is better written. Don't think I'll waste my time on the book, and I'll only see the movie because Viggo Mortensen is in it.


message 80: by Allie (last edited Feb 01, 2009 03:10AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Allie It's so refreshing to read this. The reception this book received and commendations that I keep reading and hearing everywhere continue to astound me.

I agree with you, that there is usually some redeeming feature of a book, and that there are various reasons that people like or dislike authors and books.
Perhaps if you don't read, or read a bestseller every year or so, you might pick up The Road and be.. I don't know. It could seem raw, or compelling in its starkness? But there's raw done well, and then there's half-baked wankery. Written by anyone else, I don't see how this book would ever have been published. Which is sad, to say the least.


message 79: by S.A. (new)

S.A. I loved your review, even though I would have been very unlikely to sully my "to read" shelves with this book. I am always extremely wary of anything that attracts literary acclaim!

Real readers, I find, tell it like it is and give you a much better idea of a book's worth and appeal (or in this case, lack of it.) What is writing about if it's not about communication?


Sue


message 78: by Robin (new) - rated it 1 star

Robin Allie wrote: "But there's raw done well, and then there's half-baked wankery. Written by anyone else, I don't see how this book would ever have been published...."

LOL - I love your "half-baked wankery" - Brilliant! I have been long in saying that if an "unknown" had submitted this work it would have a pile of rejection letters a mile high. As a person who handles "the business side" of my author husband. I know how many rejections he gets for what I consider "entertaining" writing.




message 77: by S.A. (new)

S.A. I think we should start a new literary prize, the HBW Award for Most Pretentious Tosh....

Sue


message 76: by Linda (new)

Linda LMAO! Please may I share this review with my writers group? They will love this AND it's educational.


message 75: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi S.A. wrote: "I think we should start a new literary prize, the HBW Award for Most Pretentious Tosh....

Sue"


That is so funny.




message 74: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Jeanne wrote: "I can only hope, for Viggo's sake, the screenplay is better written. Don't think I'll waste my time on the book, and I'll only see the movie because Viggo Mortensen is in it."

Of course! I love Viggo, but thanks to Robin's rave review and rationale for this rave review, I won't bother touching the book with a 10 foot pole. I don't care if it has historical significance. Maybe you need to be smoking pot to "get it." :)


Richard If you want Viggo, just rent (or re-rent) Eastern Promises. Dark and bloody like McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, but you get to see Viggo in a knife fight against two big nasty guys. And he's nude except for the tattoos.


And regarding the awkward prose in The Road -- bear in mind that the rules of language are, in the end, arbitrary. And breaking the rules can be a sign of genius (I haven't been able to make it through Joyce, but I've been told he's a genius :-).

My take is that the prose worked okay for me, but someone needs to perform an exorcism on McCarthy to resuscitate his very disturbed soul.


message 72: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Sorry but the book is pure poetry. But based on your review I suggest you don't try reading any Saramago either.


Richard I read Saramago's Blindness earlier, and loved it.

Each of us who didn't like The Road has their own reasons, and people that dislike unusual prose will probably also find Saramago awkward and difficult.

However, in my case, my distaste for McCarthy's book is his too-dark vision. Not just apocalyptic: every other apocalyptic novel I've ever read leaves some band of survivors with hopes for the future. The Road doesn't: anyone who think that the band of scavengers left alive at the end have any hope of perpetuating the human race simply didn't read the novel carefully enough. Saramago isn't anywhere near as bleak, since his catastrophe only affects humans, and the catastrophe ends before the book does. (If you want to know more details on my personal reasons for disliking The Road, my review is here.)


message 70: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi Richard is right. I loved "Blindness", but hated "The Road". I didn't hate the latter for the same reasons as Richard. I hated it because I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction and most of what I've read is much better than "The Road".


Richard Which brings up a different point: to a science fiction reader, McCarthy's book doesn't feel right and may be a disappointment simply because it doesn't explore concepts that a Scifi reader might come to expect from reading a great deal more apocalyptic fiction than the average mainstream reader.

Meanwhile, to someone that seldom reads "speculative fiction" or apocalyptic stories at all, McCarthy's take on the subject might seem much more fresh and original.

That ignores the stylistic element: I suspect folks that commonly read SciFi might -- and I emphasize: might -- expect the creativity to be in the tale, not in the telling, and thus be less tolerant of unusual prose, grammar, punctuation, etc., as distracting and even pretentious. SciFi is, after all, "speculative" fiction, and strongly rewards innovation in ideas. A particularly poetic telling of an unoriginal story could easily fall flat.



Chloe I think Sandi nails my problems with this book perfectly. It's just so trite for anyone who has read any post-apocalyptic fiction that it's painful to read. Just how many stereotypes of that genre can McCarthy cram into 200-odd pages? A lot. Perhaps I'm revealing my gross crassness, but how is this book in any way original? I read a YA series in elementary school that had the same premise and was far superior. I didn't see this family eating radioactive potatoes!


message 67: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi I also have to add that I found the style to be more pretentious than poetic. It uses almost exactly the same language techniques as "Blindness". But, in my opinion, what worked for Saramago did not work for McCarthy.

For the record, I have read a lot of literature, both modern and classic. And, I do like poetry and poetic prose. I'm not exclusively a science fiction fan.


message 66: by Carly (last edited Jul 21, 2009 10:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carly It's disappointing that anyone considers this a work of science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction or any sort of overdone genre. Of course, people have mistaken his other novels for westerns, so it's not surprising. The novel is interesting for its philosophy, its speculations on human regression in the present age in comparison with human primitivism, its idea of God, absolute truth, and morality. This reviewer's problems with the book seem to be a retaliation against intellectualism and liberalism. Which is all well and good, but false when projected onto a novel which comments on none of these things.

Should The Road have a plot? Maybe if it was trying to appeal to an audience that does not typically read Cormac McCarthy. Should there have been more characterization? Maybe if we were not meant to become the characters ourselves. I always find it helpful to ask why an author did things a certain way before dismissing the work. Many authors don't hold up to this scrutiny. McCarthy is one of the few experimental novelists whose meanings, while not apparent, are at least navigable. Though it seems that most readers, even those who enjoy the novel, aren't willing to spend any mental energy on an interpretation.


message 65: by Carly (last edited Jul 21, 2009 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carly Also, Duchamp's toilet is the most influential work of art of all time because it brought the definition of art into question. It debated the value of all art. It made beauty inconsequential. It took a bunch of stuffy old painters off their pedestals. And it allowed future artists to make actual statements with their work rather than just paint pretty flowers and sculpt naked women. Duh.


message 64: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Your insights into the book are most welcome. My book club spent much time discussing what McCarthy was exploring in this novel and science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction was dismissed almost at once. It is rich with meaning and while difficult to pinpoint that is what gives it such power.


Richard Carly wrote: "...Though it seems that most readers, even those who enjoy the novel, aren't willing to spend any mental energy on an interpretation."

It's so nice, then, that we have someone of clearly superior intellect to guide those of us that are too lazy to do any thinking. I hope our wise teacher will forgive us for disappointing her by thinking that a book about the end of life on the planet might be a work of post-apocalyptic fiction. Perhaps that's just what happens when one reads too much of "any sort of overdone genre".


message 62: by Carly (last edited Jul 22, 2009 06:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carly I just don't see the point of writing a review of a book without bothering to analyze it beyond "It's a book about the end of the world, but it doesn't have a plot and I have no idea what's going on." Why put any effort into writing if you can't put any effort into reading?


message 61: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi I thought Robin's review had quite a bit more to it than that. In fact, I don't think she said "It's a book about the end of the world, but it doesn't have a plot and I have no idea what's going on." In fact, I don't think she said that at all.


Christy Sorry, I just stumbled upon this review and would like to comment.

I’m glad Carly brought up Duchamp's toilet again. If that was influential precisely because it was not beautiful, is it possible that The Road attempts to be influential in the literary world because it is not all of the things literature typically aims to be? In other words, is it good because it is not good? I would be a whole lot more satisfied if people who really like this book would say “yeah, it’s boring as hell and is written so badly, because the book is just a statement about blah blah blah.” But they don’t want to do that. They seem to want it both ways. I am interpreting a somewhat schizophrenic opinion from those who sing its praises: it is both a poetic response to mainstream literature because it lacks structure, plot, character development, punctuation, etc., and it actually does things like philosophize about “human regression…in comparison with human primitivism…God, absolute truth, and morality,” as the commenter above put it. It’s like it does everything and nothing. But I don’t believe it does everything. I’m not seeing the groundbreaking statements about god and humanity. This feels like pretty well-worn territory, which is why McCarthy’s insistence on gimmicky grammar and the like strikes some as a half-assed attempt to create a diversion. I would gladly listen to someone explain just what exactly McCarthy is saying about all of the above (god, truth, morality) that makes this book such a must-read. It just feels, as someone noted above, trite. I’m not trying to be critical of Carly’s dissenting opinion, but I feel compelled to point out that it only continues to insist that the book is good, but does not really offer any insight into how or why the book is good.

Anyway, Robin, loved the review. You said it much better than I did.


message 59: by Iulus (new)

Iulus i think that the awkward language and stilted conversations work well in the context of the action--this is a nuclear winter. there's not much to be said. the lack of punctuation and conventional grammar is nothing new. cummings experimented with that simply for the sake of unbalancing the reader, whereas mccarthy does so to more fully convey the utter hopelessness of his dystopia. subject matter and theme shouldnt be criticized for their triteness. common themes are common because they reflect some psychological necessity or other that is so pervasive that writers have no choice but to consistently reexamine it. dont criticize mccarthy merely for reexamining an old premise.

god does not hate with you


message 58: by Dean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dean Jeanne wrote: "I can only hope, for Viggo's sake, the screenplay is better written. Don't think I'll waste my time on the book, and I'll only see the movie because Viggo Mortensen is in it."

You've never read it yourself but you consider it poorly written? I can understand completely why people wouldn't like this book, but to pass judgment without experiencing what you're criticising seems foolish to me. I can at least respect negative opinions that are formed rationally.


Richard Although I agree with Robin in rating the book as only one star, I don't think the book is poorly written -- in fact, I think the exact opposite. The language feels natural given the mood, which is appropriately elegiac.

My problem with the book is that it is spiritually poisonous and false to its premises. Everyone is going to die. Anyone that thinks the book is about hope and the future didn't read it carefully enough. The author has played a very nasty trick by writing about characters that are struggling and striving and hoping, only to leave them alive but doomed.

In a sense, it is like Duchamp's urinal in that both assert that art doesn't have to be beautiful. But in a more important way, Duchamp's work is much better. Once one separates the form from the function, a well-designed urinal does have an interesting form, one that is reminiscent of much of abstract sculpture. As long as you ignore the pipe :-)

While McCarthy's world isn't beautiful, his depiction of faithfulness and the struggle to survive is.

But consider three elements:
* McCarthy implicitly gets his readers to hope along with the characters by portraying their struggle and love;
* McCarthy ends the book with those characters still alive and hoping, leaving less perceptive readers with tears in their eyes and grateful for the vicarious lift.
* But it is a lie: the characters are all going to die, horribly and probably soon.

McCarthy's book is a well-written nasty trick; a superficial reading leads to one conclusion, a more careful reading leads to the opposite.

The only other exposure I've had to McCarthy was via the Coen Brothers' adaptation of No Country for Old Men . While I still love the Coen Brothers, the movie was so suffused with despair and the inevitability of pain and loneliness and loss that I'm very wary of ever glancing McCarthy's way again.


Oh, and PS:
Jeanne wrote: "I can only hope, for Viggo's sake, the screenplay is better written. Don't think I'll waste my time on the book, and I'll only see the movie because Viggo Mortensen is in it."

Hopefully you've already seen Eastern Promises, then?

And:
Dean wrote: "You've never read it yourself but you consider it poorly written? I can understand completely why people wouldn't like this book, but to pass judgment without experiencing what you're criticising seems foolish to me. I can at least respect negative opinions that are formed rationally."

Your idea of rationality is far too narrow, and your presumption that only first-hand experience can allow one to make judgments is too limiting. We all make judgments every day based on second-hand perceptions; our judgments might be biased if we are relying on a poor sampling of reports, but the technique is nevertheless valid. For example, you probably don't personally know the person you voted for in the last election in which you voted, and your information sources were undoubtedly somewhat haphazard. So calling her process irrational was not only incorrect, but almost certainly hypocritical.


message 56: by Ricardo (new)

Ricardo Rossetti wow, cant you people take a story for what it is anymore? a simple story. why must you attempt to look so deep ALL the time and wonder why, why, and why? alot of the time i enjoy books like this so much because i can take it for what it is a simple story.i think when people see such descriptive writing they feel like that causes alarm to look deeper. for me it was to engulf me only adding to the experience. reading this kind of upset me in the way alot of the comments people just jumped the gun and took robins review to heart. sometimes a simple story is the most beautiful story. well obviously all a matter of opinion so, good day =]


message 55: by Richard (last edited Sep 05, 2009 08:23PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Richard Ricardo wrote: "why must you attempt to look so deep ALL the time and wonder why, why, and why?..."

Well, I think many stories are a poorer experience if read only as a "simple story". If you don't look deeper, you aren't getting as much out of Moby Dick, or Heart of Darkness.

You seem to be implying that people only look "deeper" when they are alarmed, when they find something that disturbs them. I think you're missing something here: clearly there are different styles of reading just as there are different styles of writing. It's actually a bit insulting: kind of like someone who loves Mozart telling others that they are wrong to enjoy the darker and more complex moods of Beethoven.

Personally, I enjoy trying to look deeper into an author's symbolism and subtext. I don't do this when and because I don't like an author, I do it because I know that some authors write at multiple levels and I enjoy the artistry of someone that can tell hidden stories at the same time they are telling a superficial one. If they do it with elegance, I am even more delighted.

If they do it poorly, then I am disappointed. I think McCarthy did it poorly here; the various layers of his story were discordant and disharmonious. I'm actually quite astonished that someone could read The Road as a "simple story", but that is consistent with the huge disparity between my reaction and that of others: if you don't see the underlying story, then the only visible story is that of the love of a father and son in the face of tragedy, and for those readers you'd be correct: the simple story is the most beautiful story.

But to me that's like the old joke about reading Moby Dick and thinking it's just a story about a whaling expedition gone awry.

From what I know about Cormac McCarthy, I don't think it would be accurate to ever say he is trying to tell a simple story. I haven't read any of his other novels, but I've read reviews of several of them and they seem as complex and layered as The Road, albeit in different voice and mood.

So when you write "wow, cant you people take a story for what it is anymore? a simple story..." I think you are just plain wrong: simple it is not. You are the one that isn't taking this for what it is: a small story layered with shadings and complexities that people will probably write PhD dissertations about.


message 54: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi That was very impressive, Richard. I'd also like to add that one can't just take this as a simple story because of all the acclaim it's received. For goodness sake, it won the Pulitzer Prize. That's not a prize for simple stories. It's a prize for Literature. Therefore, one must read it for the depth one would find in Literature.


message 53: by Ricardo (last edited Sep 08, 2009 11:42AM) (new)

Ricardo Rossetti Richard wrote: "Ricardo wrote: "why must you attempt to look so deep ALL the time and wonder why, why, and why?..."

Well, I think many stories are a poorer experience if read only as a "simple story". If you don'..."


i do agree with alot of what you have to say. I do recognize the complexity of the underlining message and i understand majority of the symbolism used throughout the book. my comment was a directed towards the review done by robin. the "dragnet dialouge" she also speaks on the "lack of a plot" so i stick with what i said before, this is a simple story and the underlining message as you said dissertations could be written so i will not get into that but i do think that time and time agian McCarthy keeps returning too the laws of life and humans place in it. there is obviously more too it but to say "lack of a plot" robin in my eyes did not see the book for what the author meant and she was looking deeper and deeper for things that were not meant to be there. in my eyes it was a much simpler story than what robin was looking for, as i said before i was upset not with her review as much i was with the automatic response from others throwing the book out based on her review of negativity, agian to clear everything up i do agree with what you have to say but you must remember this was a direct response to robins review of this book, thank you for your response i did enjoy hearing what you had to say




Guy Matthew Lacrosse If you don't like McCarthy's prose you might try the audio version. They did an excellent job with it.


Laura My first experience with McCarthy was the audio version of All the Pretty Horses. Because I'd only heard good things about his work, I thought my disappointment in the book was the fault of the audio-book reader.

Now, after reading the first few pages of The Road, I fully understand I should have been blaming McCarthy. "Not only were [the sentences:] not grammatically correct, but they were awkward, confusing, used several unnecessary words and had all the rhythm and pacing of a dog with four broken legs." I couldn't have said it better myself. The book would have been clearer, shorter and more readable if he understood how to use commas instead of inserting "and" between and endless string of run-on sentences.




Amber Alan wrote: "Sorry but the book is pure poetry. But based on your review I suggest you don't try reading any Saramago either."

I read McCarthy's Blood Meridian in college and wasn't too fond of it, but I have to admit that it, like this book, is all about his masterful description and setting skills. I took a class in college on Form and Theory of Fiction that was all about landscape. McCarthy's stuff isn't a fun read, but it is poetry, like you say, and one can at least admire his skill in describing the absolute bleakness and starkness of the setting.


message 49: by Josh (last edited Mar 01, 2010 07:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh I'm still not quite sure you've read this book all the way through. The writing did take some getting used to and yes, McCarthy's methods are unconventional, but that is such a small part of The Road. Just just because he chooses not to use quotation marks (and the author did choose this, he didn't leave them out due to ignorance), doesn't mean that he's a bad writer. On the contrary, through his writing I was able envision the decimated Earth and the characters that inhabit it perfectly. I was also able to feel what the characters were feeling and view their plight through their eyes. Even many good authors who do use all of the normal conventions fail to invoke emotions like McCarthy does.

You cite the lack of plot, but let me ask, what kind of plot do you think would actually work here? The book isn't meant to follow a particular story from A to B, but to follow the characters themselves. THEY are the story. For example, say if the author were to choose a story such as the boy gets kidnapped and the father has to find him, facing off against a particular antagonist and encountering him at the climax... Or the boy and his father settle down and start their own town and struggle with the riggors of managing its people... This has all been done before. This book is meant to portray the stubborness of human life in even the most dire of situations. Picture it as if it were a series of journal entries (albiet in 3rd person rather than 1st) and you're following what happened to two particualr people first hand.

I understand that everyone has their own opinion, but it seems that you took this book completely at face value and it's not meant to be read that way at all. There's so much more here. If you were spending the whole time reading it and noticing every strange piece of grammar and puncuation, you've completely overlooked a sad but fantastic look at family and human life in face of disaster.

That wasn't meant to be pushy or anything, just thought I'd put my two cents in on what I thought was a wonderful book. I do agree that the book isn't for everyone and I know plenty of people I wouldn't recommend it to, but there has to be SOMETHING that everyone can take from it.


message 48: by Sandi (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandi Josh, I understand that you really love this book. Please understand that some of us who have read the book really hate it. Robin is a highly intelligent and sophisticated reader and I think she articulated her opinion about the book very well.

Do you have a lot of experience reading post-apocalyptic fiction? Frankly, as a fan of the genre, I think The Road compares very poorly to something like A Canticle for Leibowitz or Earth Abides, both of which are highly literary.


message 47: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh Don't take my comment as an affront against Robin herself, as it is not. And I didn't imply in any way that it wasn't a well written review or that Robin isn't intelligent. I even understand why people wouldn't like the book, as I say in my own review. I just wanted to give an opposing opinion to her review that was more than one sentence long and provided more of a debate than "The Road is pure poetry."
As for comparisons, I gave up trying to compare it to other post-apoc fiction because it's really not like anything else I'd read at all, which could be partly why I was so intrigued by it and why others are so revolted by it.


message 46: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 02, 2010 07:56AM) (new)

Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney is also much better.

And yes, Sandi, I think it would be hard to top A Canticle for Leibowitz, a post-apocalyptic novel teeming with humanity, a stunning read.

Although, to be fair, I only started The Road, and just couldn't get into it. It did remind me quite a bit of the old Lonewolf and Cub stories, so I didn't really find it all that unconventional.

But this kind of thing happens when an author of general lit "graces" the genre-ghettos with his presence. People who are not versed in genre lit tend to think of it as having nothing to offer, and so when a "real" author does a SF novel they might think that it is really something special, when, in fact, it's really not.

Had this book been shelved in the SF store of bookstores, I doubt it would have ended up being as popular.


message 45: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Josh wrote: "I'm still not quite sure you've read this book all the way through. The writing did take some getting used to and yes, McCarthy's methods are unconventional, but that is such a small part of The R..."

I think your review is right on and what has always bothered me about Robin's review is not that she "hated" the book, I can completely understand not liking or even hating it but to classify it as a "Bad Book" or "Not worth it" is in my opinion unworthy of someone who "is a highly intelligent and sophisticated reader." Her vilification of McCarthy for his lack of structure and form is simply silly particularly when she then defends Saramago when he does the same thing; structuring sentences that go on and on; paragraphs that last for page after page and dialogue that is simply un-punctuated to the point that figuring out who is speaking is nearly impossible. Apparently that doesn't bother her if she in fact has ever read any of his novels which I doubt.

There are many novels that I have disliked, White Noise by Delillo and Water for Elephants by Gruen are two that come to mind. One is full of silly characters and situations that don't hold true to me and the other is simplistic and one dimensional despite all of the research that was done. But I certainly wouldn't vilify them as "crap" since many serious readers and critics have hailed them in their own way. Although in the case of Elephants one member in my reading group actually felt that the novel was actually dangerous. In the end while I enjoyed reading it I would liken it to eating cotton candy. It was fun while it lasted but once it's gone you realize there is nothing to it.

So, in the end I do question her motives. What is she trying to prove? And why is she so militant about it?


message 44: by Matt (new)

Matt You got to hand it to McCarthy though, he really knows the critics.

McCarthy is proof that given the glut of good quality writing out there (and art in general), it's far more important to achieving fame and respect from the gaurdians of what counts as literature to excel at marketing yourself than it is to excel at your art. McCarthy has adopted a schtick that makes his works immediately recognizable as products of McCarthy. If he didn't make his prose nearly unreadable, then there would be nothing to distinguish it from all the good prose that it is out there. McCarthy relies on shock value to jolt his jaded audience and a highly developed highly individual stype to make him memorable, and that's what makes him famous. It's a triumph of style over substance. It's a garbage work, and frankly I don't trust the opinion of anyone that thinks otherwise. McCarthy can't be blamed. He's doing what he has to do to achieve prominence in this decadent age, and he's doing it skillfully. He's given 'right sort of people' the pretentious gruel that they want.


message 43: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh It seems that those who are opposed to The Road are so fervently against it that their animosity borders on anger. And Matt, you say that you don't trust the opinion of anyone who enjoy's McCarthy's writing; isn't that a little steep? Are you saying that you and I couldn't have any similar taste in literature due to that one disagreement? That seems a little one sided. I don't particularly like Guy Gavriel Kay, for instance. I think he's a bit pretentious and his stories seem contrived to me, but I know plenty of people whose opinions I respect that love his writing. Who am I to say he's a poor author?


message 42: by Aerin (new)

Aerin It's interesting how polarizing this book is. Nobody seems to ever deem the book "okay" - it's always the greatest book of the century, or the worst piece of crap ever to get published.

I loved it, but I can see why it isn't for everyone. What I don't understand is the total vitriol by the haters.

I am stunned to find such a critical following for a novel that is so clearly bad that I have yet to meet a flesh and blood person who does not hate it, or cannot, even after the most mild inquires, explain its appeal beyond the latent thought that they “ought” to like it.

Wow, really? Nice strawman there. "I don't like it, therefore it's objectively awful, and those who claim to like it are only trying to be cool."

Here, I'll explain the appeal (to me, a real flesh-and-blood person who liked the book!): It's dark. It's disturbing. It pulls no punches. All are things I like in a post-apocalyptic novel. Its oddly-phrased monosyllabic style fits with the bleak theme and stoic characterizations. And I like how, despite the wretchedness of the situation, the characters don't lose hope, even though - as Richard pointed out above - it's a false hope, on both a big-picture humanity-wide level, and on a personal level for the characters, who probably aren't going to survive that long. I still find that hope noble; I love that they find reasons to fight on, I love that they're not just going to give up and wait around to die. I found it very moving.

I honestly don't care if other people like this book or not. I just get tired (with this and other books, though this one seems to be a common one for some reason) of being called an idiot or some kind of mindless popular-opinion-following automaton just for enjoying it.


message 41: by Matt (new)

Matt "And Matt, you say that you don't trust the opinion of anyone who enjoy's McCarthy's writing; isn't that a little steep?"

I'm saying that if you recommend 'The Road', I'll never read anything you recommend unless I have some other evidence that its worth my time. I'm saying 'I won't trust your taste'. I have a good friend who has terrible taste in food. On the basis of his favorable review of a restuarant, I'd avoid it. That's what I'm getting at.


message 40: by Matt (new)

Matt Aerin: "Here, I'll explain the appeal (to me, a real flesh-and-blood person who liked the book!): It's dark. It's disturbing."

Yeah, but its comically dark, not scary dark. It's unintentional (I think?) black comedy and self-parody. I have the same sort of response to it that I have to Silence of the Lambs (it's a comedy and I laughed all the way through it), except that I like 'Silence of the Lambs' a little. 'The Road' though is wretchedly wildly over the top, to the point of not being disturbing, but merely silly because there is no attempt whatsoever by the author to make it a believable or emmersive story. I mean, it makes the Matrix trilogy look like rock solid story telling by comparison.

I mean, I can understand why we disagree over 'Handmaid's Tale' (feminism, you like it, I don't) or 'Where the Red Fern Grows' (sappy, I like it, you don't) and even if someone thinks 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' is the bomb I can understand where they are coming from, but for the life of me I can't imagine what you like about this story. I mean, if I was teaching how to write, this would be the sort of thing I'd hold up as comicly bad example of how to write badly.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

I will always love Where the Red Fern Grows.

:)


message 38: by Aerin (new)

Aerin Matt,

Your comment is precisely the attitude I don't understand when it comes to this book, as if liking it or not liking it were some kind of litmus test that says anything profound about a person's overall taste in books. What is it about this particular book that makes it such a dividing line?

If you can't understand why someone would enjoy it, that's fine. I feel that way about, say, The Little Prince. But to say "I'm saying that if you recommend 'The Road', I'll never read anything you recommend unless I have some other evidence that its worth my time," no matter how many other opinions you share with that person, just seems bizarre. I can't for the life of me figure out why my sister likes Twilight, but we share an opinion on so many other things, I can't imagine declaring that "Anyone who likes Twilight is someone whose opinions I will never trust!" No matter how much I think Twilight is crap.

I'm not going to lose any sleep over whether you trust my opinions or anything, I just don't get what it is about this particular book that makes so many people draw that line in the sand. People seem offended that it exists and that people like it. That I don't get.


message 37: by Matt (new)

Matt Aerin: "What is it about this particular book that makes it such a dividing line?"

Because its just such utter unmitigated crap.

I agree with you about 'The Little Prince', but if someone told me that they liked it for some nostalgic reason (especially if they were French) then I might be able to say, "Well, ok, I can see that I guess."

The problem with 'The Road' is I have just never heard any explanation for why someone likes it the makes the least bit of sense to me, that would (if you will) excuse you for liking it, or, more charitably express what I've been missing in or about this book that explains the attraction.

I mean, I have no interest in 'Twilight', but I've read far better defenses of 'Twilight' as literature than anything that has been written to defend 'The Road' or explain why it should be considered such a great work of fiction. Any defense I ever read always make me go (at the most charitably), 'Wait a minute, are we even talking of the same book?'

I don't know that you can ever say a peice of writing is objectively awful, but I can't even really recognize the attempts to explain what's good about this book as being about 'The Road'. There is some huge disconnect here that I admit I don't understand, because you'll note as a counterpoint to my disgust, statements like "it seems that you took this book completely at face value" and similar attempts to dismiss the opinion of those who don't like it as 'shallow'.

I think this is a good counterpoint to the discussion of Wolfe's 'Book of the New Sun' which you are similarly 'not getting' and finding no depth too.


message 36: by A.J. (last edited Mar 03, 2010 03:28PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

A.J. Aerin wrote: "Matt,

Your comment is precisely the attitude I don't understand when it comes to this book, as if liking it or not liking it were some kind of litmus test that says anything profound about a perso..."


If I may...

I think the dividing line has less to do with people liking it than considering The Road a work of genius. As a basic point of fact, McCarthy's novel is an awkwardly written slog-fest of skeleton characters wanting and doing basically nothing. People who like to read books containing real stories get fed up real quick being served a cold side of spam while being told it's a New York strip.

There are things I love in this world that I wouldn't say are artistic genius, and if someone wants to discount my opinion based on that, then they can feel free to blow themselves. But for me The Road smacks of utter pretension and forgoes actual storytelling for poetry-as-emotionalism. He substitutes window dressing for the window. After that, nothing else matters.


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