Friday, December 7, 2012

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. 

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a beautiful dystopian novel, a post-apocalyptic poem about a man, his son, and their slow journey south as the weather gets increasingly cold.  Along the way, they scavenge for food in places that have long been picked over.

The prose in this novel is poetic, gentle, evocative in its clarity.  For instance:  He dug a tunnel under one of the fallen trees, scooping away the snow with his arms, his frozen hands clawed inside his sleeves (82).  The words are simple, the moment described in a way that anyone asked to act it out would immediately know what to do, how to “claw” hands into sleeves and scoop away imaginary snow. 

Meditative and lovely, the story itself is horrific.   The father and son are both suffering from the trauma of living in a world where nobody is safe.  The land has been ravaged, with all plants and animals gone.  What cataclysmic event caused the circumstances is never explained nor are the names of the man or his son ever given the reader.  In doing so, McCarthy creates an everyman who is desperately trying to survive, to protect his son, and does so with language that is achingly elegant.

I found the ending a bit convenient and I know some will find the lack of quotation marks and other traditional punctuation (like hyphens and apostrophes) off-putting. These conventions, when not used, do not matter to me and the tonal integrity of this novel made it a book in which I found myself easily lost, aching for more as I ached for the characters.  A quiet scream of a story, poetic, desperate, and painful.  Wonderful from the first page to the last.  

The movie, The Road, does a very good job of telling the novel's story in visual terms. If it lacks some of the poetry of language one finds on the page, it has the same quiet movement, the slow pace, and bleak tone.  If you like the movie, you will love the book.  

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