Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

by Jess

I know right?  I haven’t read The Road already?  What the hell have I been waiting for?  Like, everybody read it ages ago, and everybody else saw the movie.

Well, yes.  I don’t know why I hadn’t got to it sooner, but now I have, and here we all are, so get off it already.

I loved The Road.  I liked McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, but I liked it less as it went on because I sort of felt that his stylistic shtick was growing a little old.  The Road retains some of that, still no apostrophe in “can’t” and no quotation marks ever, but I didn’t think it rang phony.  For one thing, it’s written in short little bursts that sometimes read like poetry and sometimes draw out into longer scenes.  The delicious words that McCarthy peppers his prose with certainly help, words like granitic and riprap and gambreled and mastic and rachitic and vermiculate.  It’s a book to read with a dictionary close at hand, which can either be high praise or damning criticism, and in this case it’s praise.

It’s often hard to find quality critical review for books I read, but The Road has myriad write-ups, like these from The Quarterly Conversation, The New York Times, and The Modern Word (this one’s my favorite, if you’ve only got time for one).  Maybe that’s why I never got around to reading it; I hate doing what everyone else is doing.  It’s juvenile, but it’s a tough habit to kick.

The Road has been compared to a passel of other books, among them Lord of the Flies, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Blindness.  It relates to any sort of post-apocalyptic tale in which men’s survival instinct turns them mean and, paradoxically, ends up robbing them of their humanity.  McCarthy has said he doesn’t understand authors like Henry James and Marcel Proust who don’t “deal with issues of life and death,” and, true to his word, The Road couldn’t be any more about life and death.

I think the story succeeds so well because of the ending.  I’m not going to give a big sloppy spoiler here, because the end is so resonant only because of everything that has come before it, and you really have to read it to feel its full effect.  I read the last paragraph several times — first shocked by its abruptness, but then delighted by its understated but poignant glimpse of redemption.