James's Reviews > The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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Apr 21, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: could-not-put-down, great-writing, important
Read in April, 2009

I am haunted. A gauze of despair curtains my senses as I reflect on a book that I did not want to embrace yet could not escape from page one. I cannot extract myself from this nightmare, nor am I sure I want to because the utter grayness of the book perversely affirms something deep inside me. Call it humanity.

I believe McCarthy's Pulitzer prize-winning novel reaches the soul in a way few books can. It penetrates uniquely into a man's soul and finds his rawest vulnerability: fatherhood. Though women will find the narrative equally compelling, as a father six times over I could not set the book aside until I knew whether the protagonist would succeed in his hopeless mission to protect his young son from a post-apocalyptic, burned-out world. Their heartbreaking, plodding search for a safe haven -- when it becomes increasingly obvious that there is no such place in their ruined world -- is a humbling metaphor for the supposed security a father works diligently to provide for his family.

For most fathers, the stable house of cards one is able to construct generally suffices. Danger does not come, sniffing and snarling, to blow down our feeble attempts at shelter. But I have observed men who have suffered a personal apocalypse in the form of a child lost to untimely death, or worse, a violent end. These men are never the same. They seem to walk -- as the nameless protagonist in The Road -- a gray, merciless, ashen path, unable to securely enfold the ones they love.

Beyond the existential contemplation the book triggers, it also earns my praise for its stylistic courage. The shedding of conventional punctuation not only schools the reader in the dramatic circumstances faced by the characters, but it also parallels their gradual descent into a shared cultural amnesia.

Alas, it must be said: if you are even mildly depressed or if you have recently lost a loved one, do not read this book now, or possibly ever. Spare yourself. You've experienced enough grief and sadness; you don't need McCarthy to refresh your wounds. For the rest, grit your teeth, the road ahead is dark, even though you must walk it.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Adrienne I agree with you completely, down to your opinion on punctuation.


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy There are images from this book that will haunt me forever. Yet I find the note that McCarthy leaves it on, one of hope, the most wonderful part of the novel. As bleak and desperate and horrifying as the novel is, the father's journey was not in vain. Bravo for the courage to give us some small measure of comfort. Wonder how the movie will measure up?


James I agree with you, Amy. There is hope in the bleakness, though I am personally struck with the fact that the father does not get to personally witness whether his journey was in vain (trying to be obscure so as to avoid spoiling the plot). That haunts me as a father, though I know the hope hides behind the haunting.


message 4: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy ***Potential spoiler***




Yes, but wasn't the hope of the father merely that his son would outlive him? It's been awhile, but in my memory, the fathers hope was not to live along side the son (or to do so as long as possible), but that his son would survive. To teach and model the skills that will allow his son to continue on the road: know when to ask the right questions and who to ultimately trust? Despite all the trappings of the fictional environment, isn't that what we all wish (and prepare for) as parents?

Folks get hung up in the horror and miss the core truth of this book: what they are going through is no different that what we all go through, just to varying degrees. And ultimately, there is good. Sometimes it is harder to find, but there is always a core of good. Although I'll take my life any day over the road.


James ***More spoiling***


You're right in principle and ultimately it is true to the tone of the book that the father never gets to see his son's positive outcome and instead has to content himself with the idea that he has passed on the tools for survival.

Your point about the book's ultimate veracity is spot on. In fact, I believe I took this book much too personally. I found myself absolutely wrenched by the father's predicament and can barely imagine what it's like to die without knowing whether your child will be safe or not. Anguishing yet true to life because no matter when I depart this stage, there will always be a child -- or grandchild for that matter -- whose security is uncertain.


message 6: by Rita (new) - added it

Rita Beautiful review, thank you. I will shortly be picking this book up myself.
I am curous though: how on earth do you get TIME to read books when you are a father of SIX?!?!?? Sounds like you have your hands full already! I'm impressed! :-)


James Thank you, Rita, I am confident you will value the book. As for the time it takes to be the father of six, you have accurately pinpointed why I have added so few reviews in the past year!


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