Book Review: “The Road” – Cormac McCarthy
Category: Writing and Poetry
I’m reading (listening to) a good book right now. “Lost Light” by Michael Connelly. Another cop book. Or ex-cop in this case.
It’s probably not very interesting for you to read my writing about writing but bear with me. I digressed already. My bad. Oprah found out this book was on my Audible.com Wish List and subsequently put it on her list.
THE ROAD – Cormac McCarthy
I read reviews of “The Road” after I read the book. Mistake. Some professional and some discussion forums. I was looking for an explanation of a plot point to see if a character was in the book before. Someone made the comment that reading other people’s thoughts illustrates just how much you bring to a story when you read it.
The thing about “The Road” is that it’s a journey. There’s no plot. A man and his son are making their way across some part of the US years after a nuclear armageddon. There are no states, no laws, few people, no civilization. As far as the man and the boy know animals are extinct. Trees are dead. For lack of any other sustenance people have resorted to scavenging for resources. Those resources are often other people.
It’s powerful and it’s bleak. It’s brutal and it’s tender. These are words that the reviewers use. I can’t think of better words. A man whose sole purpose is to keep his son alive or to keep him from harm even if that means killing him. In that world, every person they encounter is a potential or actual threat.
Case in point. I learned a new word. Catamite. I looked up the word “catamite” later and it nearly made me cry. What it meant to the man and the boy. What it meant for a father trying to protect his son. What it meant for someone to survive a nuclear holocaust only to end up enslaved with no recourse but death.
The man and the boy are hiding, watching a passing group of people. Men walking in formation armed with clubs and spears followed by slaves pulling a cart. Walking behind them, about a dozen women, some of them pregnant. And walking behind the women, the catamites on leashes and dog collars.
And then the boy asks his father, “Are those the bad guys, papa?”
That’s a very poor summary of the scene, by the way. Probably inaccurate, too.
A catamite is a boy kept by a pedophile.
I have a great appreciation for all of the things that McCarthy does not attempt to explain. He doesn’t answer questions. He doesn’t explain situations. You never know why. You never know where anyone is coming from or where they’re going. You never know anyone’s name. You only know what’s here and now for the man and his son and you struggle to make sense of it. To find some desperate hope.
And finally, in some perverse way I enjoyed “The Road” because it felt like being in Octavia Butler’s world of “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talent”. No reviewer mentioned this, which I thought was odd. Maybe because they haven’t read Octavia Butler. I miss her. Even though her books are a kind of torment.
“The Road” is an experience. Like a Butler book. Like the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan”. It will hurt you. You’ll feel it. But it’s art. You’ll see the world differently after you’re done.
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By Cormac McCarthy
Release date: By 26 September, 2006