Monday, January 31, 2011

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The RoadTitle: The Road
Author: Cormac MacCarthy
Pages: 287
Published: 2007 Vintage Books (orig. 2006)
Read For: Back to the Classics Challenge, Pulitzer Challenge
My Rating: 4.5 stars

When the film adaptation of this book was released, I had no idea that it had begun as a book, and definitely no idea that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner.  All I knew was that the film looked creepy, and that dystopia was not my thing.  My husband went to see it without me, and I was perfectly fine with that.

And then I found out that it was a Pulitzer Prize Winner and I was agape for about three weeks.  I've loved the Pulitzers I've read, they have always been insightful and written well, and I've made it a personal goal to read them all at some point.  So The Road made it onto my TBR list.  When I made the further discovery that the author has some other amazing books out there, The Road jumped up quite high on my list.

I can't say that The Road was an enjoyable book to read.  How could a story of a father and son trying to survive a cruel wasted world be pleasant?  What was fascinating to me about this book was that the plot line was so very simple, the two main characters were only slightly developed, (you get to know their thoughts, but never their names.  There is no contemplating or bonding or making friendships with these poor distraught characters--they are in survival mode for goodness' sake!  No time to kick back and ponder!) the writing was sparse, and yet the setting was vivid and boy, was my heart pounding!  I recently posted the first line, but the syntax is brilliant and bears repeating.
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.
The only other quote from the book I took note of was on page 15.  After that I pretty much didn't breathe or blink until there were no more words for me to devour.
The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable.  A blackness to hurt your ears with listening.
There were no dialogue tags in the book, so once or twice I had to reread a couple of lines to make sure I was sure of who was talking, but overall it didn't inhibit the reading experience.  If anything, it enhanced it because it made you aware that the attention wasn't solely on the conversation, the character's attention was elsewhere.  Many of the sentences were fragmented observations, which really served to set the mood as well.  In short, McCarthy's writing floored me.  I immediately found an excuse to drop by my local indie book shop and get my hands on another of his books (ended up with All the Pretty Horses) because I can't wait to read more of his writing.  I almost even want to see The Road in film format, but I don't know if I'm ready yet.  Maybe at some point the intensity will fade and I'll be up for the experience.

If all the books I've chosen for the Back to the Classics Challenge are this rewarding, I'm in for a great six months!


  1. Melody: Beware of "Outer Dark". It may have been one of the darkest books I've ever read. There is nothing redeeming about it. Eeeks.


  2. Oh, that book was so good! I admire Cormac McCarthy greatly and I think he'll be the next American honored with the Nobel prize.

  3. It is a great book. One of my fondest reading memories was in grad school. One of my peers bought The Road, and we immediately began to circulate it through the ranks of grad students. My friends and I all read it, and I devoured it in one day. I've read one other book by McCarthy--Blood Meridian--and it was one of the toughest books I've ever read. The writing was much more flowery and Faulknerian. I much preferred The Road.

  4. Ever read Cormac McCarthy before? If you liked The Road, I highly suggest Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men, Outer Dark & Child Of God. He's one of the most thorough and precise writers I know. One of my favorites. I am glad you like him.

  5. Thanks for the warning Belle! I don't know if I could handle much more than The Road as far as darkness and intensity. At least The Road showed the love of the man for his son. That helped to counter some of the horrid scenes.

    As the Crowe...I was very impressed with the world he created in so few words. This was one of those books that made me think I can't write, who am I kidding?

    Andi, that makes McCarthy even more impressive to me--he can write sparse and flowery? That's something else. Also subject matters, post-apocalyptic and western? what a combo! I haven't really looked too deeply into his other books, I just know that I'm impressed enough to read more.

    Ben, this was my first by him, but won't be the last. Thanks for the suggestions. Like Vonnegut, I almost feel like I could read anything of his despite the subject matter because the writing is just so amazing.

  6. I have always been afraid of this book. Apocalytpic type stories seem to freak me out. Interesting that you liked it so much. Maybe I'll have to take another look.

  7. It isn't a book I'd recommend lightly, and I actually didn't like while reading it--I was too scared. :) It was after I'd finished reading it, when I could think about it sanely, that I realized how impressive it was that such a simple story and so few words could get me so worked up. If you already know you don't do well with this type of story, you might want to keep avoiding it. :)

  8. If I had time I would totally be reading The Boarder Trilogy. I've read All the Pretty Horses and liked it. Some of the language is really beautiful. Mc Carthy's an author I feel I need to take my time with so I think I'll be waiting until summer to read more by him. The Road is fantastic. I'm glad you liked it. The movie doesn't hold back much. It's pretty graphic so be warned!

  9. I don't get it - I am one of those people that really didn't enjoy The Road. The atmosphere was totally missed on me and I just felt a little bit bored. I think maybe I needed a little more backstory? An explanation for how they came to be in their predicament? Maybe that would have helped.

    Anyway, I haven't totally given up on him. I have another McCarthy book on my shelf (although the name escpaes me) so I will give that a try eventually.

    I have heard a lot of people say you either hate this book or you love it.

  10. Chelle, I'd like to read the whole Border Trilogy at some point too, but like you I want to make sure that I don't rush it. Maybe this summer...we'll see how it goes.

    Becky, I hate it when I'm the one dissenter in a crowd of admirers! I know that for me, with The Road, I didn't really get sucked in until I started reading it at night, by myself, when it was quiet, and I think that those things (and the fact that I got to read it in long stretches) helped me to get caught up in the drama.

    It could be that the writing style just didn't click with you though, who knows? I did feel like their journey was a bit too much of the same thing for too long, although I wouldn't be surprised if that was purposeful. Perhaps he wanted the reader to get to a point where they needed it to end. It's hard to drum up the desire to read another book by an author that didn't work for you the first time around. That's where I'm at with John Irving.

  11. The Road is the first Cormac McCarthy I've read, after many folks recommending him. You're right about it not being particularly enjoyable to read, in that it's bleak, bleak and bleaker, but so beautiful and compelling. A friend and I were talking about the ending and how what you feel about it is a kind of rorshach test for how you stand in the world. Do you think everything turns out okay in the end or not?

  12. Yeah, the ending was left so perfectly up in the air that the variety of interpretations could be as many as there are readers of the book. I decided to stop thinking about it and think about other parts of the story instead, what does that say about me? :)

    Really, though, I was caught up in the fact that in the end, the man had not been able to do what his wife had done (suicide) and that, regardless of intentions, both had left their son in the world without them. Made me think about strength/weakness and what we are capable of doing (or not) in the name of love.

  13. I was blown away by this book, especially as a father of a young boy. The prose is just so powerful!

    The film adaptation is really well done and fits the tone of the book. So if you're up for that, you might try it. But it's not lite fare, as you know.

  14. I was blown away by this book.... I read it just before the movie came out, and really had no idea what it was about. So picture me floored. I also want to read more by him.... and hence, also have All the Pretty Horses on my shelf!!

  15. I've been debating about whether or not to read this book. After reading all the comments, I may move it up in the TBR list!

  16. Seth, it does raise some powerful emotions and considerations from the point of view of a parent, doesn't it? I'm glad to know that the film is well done, thanks!

    Sarah, I'm very curious to see how his other books are, All the Pretty Horses seems just about opposite of The Road, yet I have no doubt that it will be well done.

    Cindy, I'd love to hear what you think about it when you do get to it. It wasn't my usual fare, but so well written that it didn't much matter.


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