Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy


I first heard about The Road by Cormac  McCarthy when it was picked by Oprah Winfrey’s book of the month a few years back. I didn’t see the program where McCarthy was interviewed. What peaked my interest was the plot and characters. A father and son travelling along a road in postapocalyptic America. I think in most cases this genre is usually of the science fiction realm and perhaps not taken serious by the mainstream media. The fact that it was part of “Oprah’s book” club said this wasn’t your ordinary post disaster book. Even after reading this book over a month ago it still stays with me in my thoughts.


The Story

The story is about a father and son traveling along a road in postapaocalyptic landscape. What has  happened isn’t exactly explained and kept vague. Even the names of the father and son are never spoken or made known. We catch glimpses of the mans life before the unknown disaster happens from his dreams. The boy we learn was born on the eve of the disaster that wiped out civilization as we know it. The mother/wife commits suicide for reasons I’m not quite sure of or at least I didn’t quite understand. We see her character in the mans dreams which I helps give the man some depth of character. That he wasn’t always what he is today and he knew the world before it had become bleak and burned out.

In the beginning their hope lies in travelling south along the road to reach the coast. There they hope that they would find some relief from the colder winter that is soon approaching. They have to scavenged for food, fuel and shelter along a burnt out landscape. They also have to avoid bands of cannibalistic gangs hunting for more victims. They have one gun with two bullets for protection or suicide if capture seemed imminent.

The key focal point of course the father and son relationship. To each other they mean the world to one another. The father does what he has to do to keep him and the boy alive. He himself is ill but he keeps going on for the sake of the boy. They talk about “having the fire inside” them and remind themselves that they are the good guys. The boy is what keeps the father going despite his ill health. The boy in many ways keeps the man in check of his sanity and to stay on the side of good.

The Book

The book itself is intense although reading this can be very easy. I read this through in about a day which is very unusual for me. I’ve read some critics say it starts off too slow. I do agree with that to some degree but found that after the thirty to thirty five page marks it really grabbed a hold of me and didn’t let go until the end. McCarthy's style of writing almost matches the landscape it describes with it’s bare bone punctuation and lack of traditional chapters. The story moves along in what can be described as a series of snapshots or moments in the journey.

The Movie

Of course a book of this acclaim and stature was made into a movie in 2009. One part of me was curious how this would translate to film and the other was nervous to actually see it translated to film. Would it it serve the book justice? How would it be seen visually? How the horrors of cannibalism be handled? Would the story be twisted like many other novels turned to film? Well I eventually saw the film and I must say it’s one of the better translations from book to film I’ve ever seen. The film stays with the book almost verbatim. I noticed more was left out from book than was added into the film that wasn’t in the book. Some scenes from the book that were left out of the film were not essential to the story. Though I believe the ending of the movie ties more of the story together than the book does. I don’t to spoil it much so I’ll leave it at that.


As fan of post-apocalyptic fiction  I was hooked to this story. One story that comes to mind is the Stephen King novel The Stand which also describes a apocalyptic event and the aftermath.  I also remember the film “Omega Man” starring Charlton Heston in a zombie filled wasteland of Los Angeles. I’ve read others that I can’t recall the names of that describe a world after everyone is gone. I thinks it’s a curiosity I have with a world with very few people left in it. What would society or the world be like. What kind of footprint would we leave on this Earth.

Being a father of two sons this book has hit me on a personal level. In a way I see it as an symbolic of father and son relationships on a deeper level. A father trying to prepare his sons for the harsh world in which his days are numbered. The boy represents hope for the future after the father eventually passes along. I know it’s made me look at my sons in a different light. It has made me think of my own mortality and what will I pass along to my boys. Will it be enough for them to survive in this harsh world we live in?


This book(and movie) has the the ability to stay with you for a long time. It has the ability to horrify you, depress you but still in the end leave you with a glimmer of real hope. I’ve read the book over a month ago and the movie about two weeks ago yet it still stays with me almost daily. This is certainly a story that you’ll be thinking about long after you read it. If your a Dad this is a must read for you. You’ll look at your kids in a different light, especially if you have boys. I don’t mean it to sound that it’s exclusively for guys. It is wonderfully written and well paced. I think it’s one of those books that will be used as an example of a masterpiece novel that is a classic many years from now. Perhaps in the same vein as Catcher in Rye, Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice an Men  and so on. If you’ve been on the fence about reading the book (or seeing the movie) take the plunge you won’t be disappointed. My only regret is that I hadn’t read it sooner. I still feel as if I haven’t absorbed everything this book has to offer.

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