The Road

Book  Review

©2009 Kathy Larson

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Read this book.

Then give it your brothers, sons, husbands, fathers, any male you are relatively close to, to read.  It’s not because it’s that good (which it is) that I say this, it’s because this is a book that will touch any man who has ever had a close relationship, or wished they’d had a close relationship with a son, a father, or a brother.  But, it’s not just a story for men about men, it’s a story for people, so, on second thought, give it to anyone you care about.

Basically, this is a survival story, but in a setting where survival is ultimately hopeless.   Some terrible, cataclysmic event has taken place, McCarthy is careful to never say what it was, and the earth is essentially a wasteland.  The only survivors are humans, and not many of them.   Better that they should have all died considering there is no food, no drinkable water, and no sunlight.  And, as in all apocalyptic sagas, there are roving bands of men who have decided that brutality and bestiality are the only ways to survive.  Into this world McCarthy throws his dying protagonist, whose sole companion is his young son.

Somehow, this pair has managed to survive for about nine years.  The wife/mother abandoned them years before, choosing suicide over hopelessness.  Her memory is not a source of comfort for either the man or the boy; there almost seems to be a sense of anger directed at her for leaving them alone to struggle in this hostile world.  The presence of women in The Road is minimal and when it is it is ugly and terrifying.   There is no room for equality in this bleak nightmare world, and there are no sensitive concessions for being deemed the weaker sex, only despair.

What is at stake in The Road is not merely the survival of this father and his son, but the survival of faith and all that it means to be human.  That, and the meager supplies of food and water they manage to scavenge once in awhile, is all these two wanderers have to sustain them on their journey.   For the man there is no returning to life as he once knew it, and for the boy the only hope is to reinvent the world he was born in to.  They are the ‘good guys,’ and ‘carriers of the light,’ in search of other good guys.  The boy must survive if there is to be any hope at all.

McCarthy’s stream of consciousness writing moves his story along at a relentless pace.  His short staccato sentence structure and sparse use of punctuation draw you along, sometimes unwillingly, into places you’d rather not go, but like gawking at a bad accident you just can’t stop yourself.   Despite the elements of darkness and despair in The Road there are also moments of indescribable beauty and emotion.  One such is the scene in which the father bathes his son; it achingly represents an act of pure and simple love, something they really have no luxury for.  It, more than any other moment in the novel exemplifies all that has been lost, and all there is yet to hope for.

The Road was one of the considerations for the Canada Reads competition this past summer on CBC Radio and I wish it had come out on top.  More people should read this book, it will make them appreciate those they love and the tenuous nature of what we all take for granted and call life.