I’m mentioning this book long after the excitement has passed. The Road was written several years ago and was popular at the time. It was made into a movie (which I haven’t watched) and it was endorsed by her royal Oprahness which apparently is the gold standard in some minds. I read it several months ago myself too. So why am I posting about it now? Because when you read this book is irrelevant. The Road is not drivel that is only interesting when it’s popular. It is perfect and, in it’s simplicity, timeless.
You should read The Road in an appropriate frame of mind. The Road should be read alone. In a closet. In the dark. While hungry. Watching it on a big screen while munching popcorn is missing the point. On the other hand it’s a book that tries it’s best to leave you dazed and spent; so don’t go overboard. I bought it to read while ice fishing and decided not to. Reading “The Road” while alone in a remote icebound landscape is like locking yourself in the Bastille before reading The Pit And The Pendulum. This way lies madness.
It’s a post apocalyptic book. If you think about it, it’s odd that such a genre as “post apocalyptic literature” even exists but it’s one of my favorite genres. A book that starts on page one with everyone (or almost everyone) dying gives the author a clean slate upon which to paint a new world. However, I’m of the opinion that most “post apocalyptic” books are Quixotic fluffery written by overfed English majors who couldn’t fix a flat tire much less survive when the underpinnings of civilization have gone off the rails. I detest reading about an interesting situation but mid chapter having my illusion broken by the undeniable feeling that the text was hammered out on a Mac in a Starbucks. The Road is an exception. McCarthy gets to the point and stays there.
It’s really an exploration of a father and his son and their relationship amid a situation that is more or less hopeless. Cormac McCarthy goes to great lengths to make good and sure you understand there is no easy out. No Fairy Godmother is coming to this story and that’s refreshing as it is rare. Modern literature (our whole society in fact) goes out of it’s way to avoid situations that stark. McCarthy has balls of steel to go there. Furthermore he has a real touch for showing the small incremental struggles that loom large in a brutal environment. I’m sick of authors that churn out a ten chapter story about taming dragons but can’t describe starting a fire in a wet place. Nor can they explain that no fire means cold and do it in a way that pierces our smug protected overly civilized lives. McCarthy knows what he’s doing.
Some caveats. First; my wife hated it. In fact I’ve never met (or heard of) a female who liked it. Sorry but it’s true. This is a book about survival and it comes entirely from a male point of view. How Oprah endured reading it I’ll never know. Second; you either can go with the whole post apocalyptic tone or you can’t. If you can’t willingly suspend disbelief enough to visualize a world where there’s not a cold soda in the fridge and the power is off for good…don’t bother. You’re going to think it’s trite and repetitive. Turn back to the TV and pay no attention to loners and their creepy stories.
But if you’re of the right mindset (especially if you’ve experienced even the smallest hint of a “survival” situation) it’s just plain the best book you’ll buy this decade. If you’re nodding in agreement get a copy of The Road and read it. Just do it. It’s short and spare so I don’t want any bitching about long books or how you’re too busy. Kick everyone out of the house, turn off the phone, sit down, and read it. Then, when you’re done, take a deep breath and be really happy it’s just literature.