The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Published by Vintage International
Publication date: April 7, 2006
Genres: Book Clubs, Dystopian, Fiction, Horror, Literary, Science Fiction
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You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
A man and his young son are walking on a desolate road surrounded by burnt trees and ashes. In the distance fires still burn. They are headed…where? To safety would seem to be the answer, but in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road there is no safe place. The world as we know it has gone up in flames. Extremes of nature means fires, earthquakes, snow, and pounding rain. The survivors have settled into two groups—those with a moral code and those without. For those without, everything and everyone is prey. For everyone else, there is only the slog to stay alive.
The America of The Road is dire. Whatever resources were left have been plundered long ago. Houses, stores, trains, and buildings stand empty, stripped of anything of value—food, medicine, clothing. Fields are barren, livestock and even pets gone. Sheltering anywhere for too long attracts others who, more often than not, are the enemy. The road is all there is and father and son trudge it as winter approaches, heading south to the ocean and warmer weather where the chances of surviving are greater. The have only each other, a shopping cart of scavenged supplies, and a loaded gun. They are malnourished and the man is sick.
I’ve never read McCarthy before, but was mesmerized from The Road’s first page. Yes, this is a dark, terrifying vision of the apocalypse, but it is just as much a story of the boundless love between a father and his child. Even with the need for constant vigilance, they talk and talk, the boy asking his father what the world was like before. The father teaches him, not the normal things like how to tie his shoes or brush his teeth, but how to hold a gun and stay warm outdoors in freezing weather. How to scan the landscape and proceed with extreme caution at all times. It’s sweetness mixed with horror in a way that’s unforgettable. Together they see and experience things no one should have to and for the father, the battle to protect his child, not just physically, but emotionally, is a losing one.
But when he bent to see into the boy’s face under the hood of the blanket he very much feared that something was gone that could not be put right again.
I can’t tell you why I decided to read something so bleak right now, but I can tell you that it was absolutely worth it. I’m almost thinking about reading it again. Not to be stuck is a place of horror, but because McCarthy’s writing is that sublime. He is a dystopian Kent Haruf, another author with a gift for words. The novel is stripped down—no punctuation, no chapters—just paragraphs of sentences so purely perfect that there is no other way they could have been put together. Each word honed to its essence in a way that burrows far under the skin and into the core, becoming as real as life. The Road is why I read. To be awestruck, to be hit hard and shaken by words that stay with me. This is not a book you’ll forget.
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