Gztaylor5's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Apr 06, 09

bookshelves: english-7701
Read in April, 2007

5Q/??P (I'm not entirely sure how YA audiences will approach this book..)


I first encountered McCarthy in my senior year of college at UTK. _The Road_ was the final selection of a course on modern American literature. At first, I was a little skeptical of McCarthy, as I’d seen the movie All the Pretty Horses when I was much younger, and wasn’t expecting much from _The Road_. Needless to say, I was happily proved wrong in my expectations.
_The Road_ blew me away. Everything from McCarthy’s unique style of writing to the brutally simple ways in which he deals with complex themes are evidence of McCarthy’s talent, as I believe him to be, as one of American’s premier writers.
_The Road_ takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, as a boy and his father make their way across the ruins of the southern United States in a nuclear winter, searching for some semblance of hope along the coast. Make no mistake, this book, like much of McCarthy’s work, isn’t for the faint of heart. This book is serious, both in form and function, dealing with a range of subjects that will have you reaching for a bottle of Prozac: dire-starving survival, cannibalism, hopelessness, humane-driven suicide, no sunlight-just the steady fall of snow and ash, just to name a few. All of this takes place in a world where everything that we know has been reduced to ruins. To match the content of the book, McCarthy’s style of writing goes perfectly with the flow of the book, creating this mythic, yet simple style of prose that elevates the simple to the level of the profound, for example, a memory of a time passed:

"From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame. Now call down your cold and your dark and be damned."

Despite how dark and terrible the book is, there are moments of eloquent, extreme beauty, mostly in the relationship between the father and son. These are the moments that touch us the most as readers. This is mostly due to the way in which McCarthy juxtaposes the apex of tragedy with the apex of the beautiful: he makes us pay attention to the two in their absolutes.

Ultimately, _The Road_ is about what we, as people in the modern world, are capable of doing to one another when we don’t pay attention, when we aren’t aware.

As far as teaching goes, I’ve wanted to teach this book ever since I first read it. You could even say reading books such as this is part of what inspired me to teach. The lessons that can be learned from literature such as McCarthy’s are as profound as they are elusive. McCarthy is one of America’s best authors, and he’s still alive. He needs to be read and appreciated by contemporary audiences, for his nostalgia for the past as well as his awareness of the present and the future he reflects in his writing. Also, _The Road_ is his most accessible of all his works. I think the apocalyptic world will resound with a young audience, as many modern video games and TV shows deal with the fringes of science fiction.
I’m not without my reservations in teaching this book. It is a very advanced book, one I’d have to reserve for HS seniors, and honors classes exclusively. But, even though my educational training is making me more… lenient in my views of literature, I still in many ways remain a purest, and believe that reading the difficult literature, the painful literature, the HARD literature, shows us the most in terms of what it means to gain something from the language arts.
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