The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was the twelfth and final book in my 2013 TBR Challenge, and I'm proud to have completed the challenge in plenty of time. As I still have lots more books that I haven't read, I'll be participating in 2014, as well.
I'd been putting off The Road because Cormac McCarthy isn't known for his bright, cheery writing. When I've spoken to people who've read this, the most frequent descriptors are "depressing," "dark," and "pointless." It's certainly those two former, but I disagree about the latter. There is a point, but it's not the point one might expect.
In a post-apocalyptic landscape, a father and his young son walk what remains of an old highway, seeking warmer climes. They scavenge what they can along the way, but other survivors have beaten them to most of it. The boy wants to trust and help others, but the father explains, time and time again, that others are bad guys who want to hurt them, and shows little mercy. Whether he's right or wrong, we never learn.
The prose is extraordinarily spare, skipping even many apostrophes, and all quotation marks. It makes it hard to follow conversations, sometimes, especially because all the rest of the book goes along at a nice clip. For all its bleak outlook, the book is a quick, easy read. Though, if you're not paying attention, you may stumble over some of the language. Big, seldom-used words are sprinkled throughout.
While the story is bare-bones, where it works is as an extended metaphor. The father has a plan for himself and his son. He refuses to deviate from it, often to their detriment. He tells his son to be good-hearted and generous, but his own actions are deeply suspicious, and he defaults to violence. He sets up the notion of "good guys" and "bad guys," then defines them so narrowly that all strangers are suspect. It's only when the son is allowed to decide that he's saved from his father's path to destruction. Certainly the above could apply to a lot of children of bigoted, hateful, myopic parents.
The book serves as a character study of the father. The apocalyptic aspect, little-explored as it is, mostly serves to strip away distractions so the father's true nature comes to the forefront. He's blinded by the love of his son, who's all he has left of a world he hasn't entirely let go of. The cold, ashy landscape is all the son has ever known, though, and the father's attempts to shield the boy's innocence are simultaneously depressing and touching.
Overall, I found The Road to be neither as pointless and boring as I'd feared, nor was it worth the hype. But then, few books are.
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