Monday, October 23, 2006

Book Review: The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
By now we all know that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a disturbing post-apocalyptic novel centered around an unnamed man and his son and their struggle for survival. As was expected, many things in the novel are horrific yet described with McCarthy’s ability to see beauty in the grotesque (it is this fact, by the way, that makes me see him as more of Southern writer than a Western one). Most of these things are known about the novel by reading the first paragraph of the many, many reviews, but none of these things have anything to do with what makes the novel good or bad to me.

I recently read A Farewell to Arms and in many ways I was reminded of the war sections of that book while reading The Road. Not only are we looking at, in both, the ability of man to persevere even when all hope is gone, but one scene in The Road of the man considering hiding out in a barn seemed so reminiscent of a similar scene in A Farewell to Arms that I had to read it as some sort of tribute. Also we could look at the one image of hope in McCarthy’s novel as also taken from Hemingway, as Jennifer Egan notes in her essay “Men at Work” from

The comparisons to Hemingway end there. The language of The Road may be verbose, more descriptive, but this is much bleaker than anything I’ve read by Hemingway. McCarthy, through repetitive struggles, similar scenes and the perpetual ash, pushes the reader into feeling some of the hopelessness felt by his characters. The lack of chapter breaks in the novel also helps to force us along. I made the mistake of often reading the book before bed and I fell asleep then with the images of burn and barren, ash-covered landscapes and the feeling that someone was always behind me, following, just out of sight.

If we measure a book by its staying power, the way it continues to haunt and linger, The Road surpasses many other books. If I’m asked, though, whether I “like” the book, I might not be able to answer convincingly in the affirmative.

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