The Road

~by Cormac McCarthy
2007 Locus Award Nominee
2007 Pulitzer Prize Award Winner
2007 Quill Award Winner

I wanted to like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I really did. But, unfortunately, this was just not to be. At first I thought it was only a stylistic issue, but now I'm not so sure. It's not that it's a bad book, I mean it won a Pulitzer among other things, it just didn't do anything for me personally. Since finishing The Road I have discussed it with many other people, most of who thought it was brilliant or at least liked it, and my opinion towards the book has improved somewhat as a result. I can at least begin to appreciate aspects of it, even if I didn't particularly enjoy it.

The Road is a rather bleak story of a son and his father as they travel along a road south, struggling to survive after an unknown disaster has befallen the Earth. The event happened before the boy was born, transforming the planet into an utter wasteland where everything has died or is dying. Few humans are left--not to mention civilization--and dwindling resources have forced people toward violence and even cannibalism, doing literally anything and everything they can to survive. The world is an extremely dangerous place and the road they are following is a particularly hostile environment. The father is doing all he can to ensure his son's survival--which is the only thing keeping him alive.

The story in it's entirety seemed a bit predictable to me. I wasn't shocked, or really surprised, with anything that happened. Additionally, a general pattern of "We're doing okay, now we're starving, oh look! we found an undisturbed cache of supplies" developed which detracted from the whole story. The ending of the book made little sense to me, at least if taken literally. Actually, there were several things, if I stop to think about them, that didn't really really fit with story's background--mostly dealing with the boy's interactions with the world around him. He was raised in this world, knowing nothing of what came before except through his father's stories, but he doesn't really act like it. (It might have helped if we knew how old the boy was, but I'm not sure.) However, I did like that over time the father slowly changed from keeping them both alive to teaching his son how to survive on his own after he would die (without explicitly telling him so).

Now to some of the stylistic elements: The two main characters are never given names, which can be confusing since they're both male. ("Wait, Cormac, which he are you talking about now?") Actually, none of the people have names. This is fine, and can be quite effective, except that McCarthy doesn't quite pull it off well enough to avoid confusion. To add to the confusion, the story itself isn't entirely linear and it is completely fragmentary. The prose is at times quite provocative and poetic, but is often just awkward--I'm not even sure it was always comprehensible English. Finally, no quotation marks are used, so dialogue is sometimes hard to distinguish from the rest of the writing. And apostrophes can apparently be used for words like "it's" but never for "dont" or "cant."

I expected to like this book (it's exactly the type of book I normally do enjoy) but I was ultimately disappointed. I really wasn't that impressed with it--mostly a stylistic thing, I think. The story was a good one, despite it's flaws--the presentation just didn't work for me. Overall though, the book didn't seem to have much of a point. At least for me, anyways. I know quite a few people who really like this book. And it did win a Pulitzer, so it must have some merit.