The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Pages: 287
Publisher: Vintage
Copyright: 2006
Format: Paperback
Rating: [rating:5]


It has taken me years to get to this marvelous book. I purchased a copy several years ago, when it was first selected by Oprah for her book club. Since that time, it won the 2008 Pulitzer and was made into a movie. (Check out my brother’s review of the movie.) I’ve purchased the book numerous times for friends and family. And yet, I only read it a few weeks ago. I’m just glad I finally picked it up.

The plot is excruciatingly simple: A man and his young son travel a post-apocalyptic America in search of food, shelter, and hope in the form of other “good guys.”

This is my first Cormac McCarthy experience, but I’m told that this is one of his more “accessible” works. Still, there are no characters names, so mostly, it’s just “the boy” and “the man.” This irritated me for the first 75 pages or so, particularly in a scene where there is a scuffle amongst the man, the boy, and a different man. I had to read the scene several times, and even then I was left vaguely confused as to who was pointing the gun at whom. Also, the lack of clear dialog attribution and the use of “he” to describe both the man and the boy made for some confusion. The writing is so sparse it makes Hemingway look like a blabbermonth. However, there was clearly a purpose to the writing style, and I appreciated the style more as I got further into the book. By the end, I couldn’t imagine The Road written any other way. The writing is beautiful in its simplicity and starkness. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

Where you’ve nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them. (74)

We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
You said we werent.
I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.
No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
And we’re carrying the fire.
And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.
Okay. (128-29)

He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child had known this better than he. (154)

One of the things that I like best about this book is that its simplicity lends itself to different readings and implications. My husband and I fundamentally disagree about the underlying tone of the ending and about the man’s concerns for his son. This book applies to everyone a little differently and would make an excellent book club selection for that reason.

And, I must say, that finishing the book is hardly the end of the experience. I have had numerous, lengthy conversations about the potential ramifications of this book since I finished it. I’ve made resolutions to learn how to can (i.e., make preserves). My brother has taken to collecting lighters. And, I’ve thought through a scenario in which I might have to eat my dog.

I can’t really say that I loved this book, and yet it has won a place amongst my favorite books of all time. It’s just one of those books. It is dark and depressing and almost without hope. And yet, it is thought-provoking and beautiful. It has woven its way into my world view. And that is perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to a book.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy [rating:5]

Other Reviews:
An Adventure in Reading
Books for Breakfast
books i done read
Care’s Online Book Club
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Grasping for the Wind
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Incurable Logophilia
In Spring It Is the Dawn
Melody’s Reading Corner
Reading Matters
Rhapsody in Books Weblog
Rob Around Books
Save Ophelia
Small World Reads
things mean a lot
The True Book Addict
The Well-Read Child
Yule Time Reading

16 Responses to The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Thanks for the link and I agree–it is not a book one loves, but it is a terribly memorable favorite!
    .-= Sarah at SmallWorld Reads´s last blog ..Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry =-.

  2. Loren Eaton says:

    If it wasn’t for the last twenty-or-so pages, I’d say The Road is almost unreadable. But in that last little bit, I think McCarthy lays out an argument for the importance of the imago dei in everyone, even at the end of all things. That’s what “we’re carrying the fire” means, and it turns pure horror into something elegaic and haunting.

  3. Wendy says:

    Great review – this book was so stunning in its simple and powerful prose, wasn’t it? Thanks for the link to my review!
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..TLC Book Tour and Giveaway: When She Flew =-.

  4. lena says:

    It is scary some of the thoughts that we have to think through in tough situations but I love McCarthy for pushing us to go there. We may one day have to do so ourselves and we’ll be better prepared if we’ve had these thoughts before.
    .-= lena´s last blog ..Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Tromifuk =-.

  5. Care says:

    I could be wrong but I think I won this from your bro in an contest from LitFlicks last year… now I have to go check. But yes, a fabulous book, and amazing writer and I cannot wait for the movie.
    I shuddered on that line about your dog. I won’t go there.
    .-= Care´s last blog ..31 Hours =-.

  6. Jessica says:

    Sarah – I agree; I haven’t read such a memorable book in a long time.

    Loren – I, too, love the message of the book about carrying the fire – even in the darkest of situations.

    Wendy – I don’t think I’ve ever encountered simpler prose. Like I said, it makes Hemingway look like a blabbermouth!

    lena – This book made me think through some horrible things that I hope I never have to face, but I think you’re right that we had better be prepared.

    Care – I added your review to the list above. I don’t know how I missed it. I truly loved this book! And, just so you know, I decided that I wouldn’t eat my dog. I would kill her and hide her body, so no one else would eat her either.

  7. blake says:

    I think we should all start hoarding lighters.

    I wouldn’t eat your dog either, Jess.

  8. Like you, I have had this book a long, very long time. Now I need to read it as well. Thanks for your review and reminding me that I need to get busy!

  9. Fantastic review!

    And I never noticed how many of us had reviewed it before!
    .-= J.T. Oldfield´s last blog ..Miss Austen Regrets =-.

  10. Teddy says:

    I read this book before my blogging days. I really enjoyed it. I saw a trailor for the up coming movie and wasn’t too impressed but I’ll reserve judgement until I see some reviews.
    .-= Teddy´s last blog ..Her Mother’s Daughter: A Novel of Queen Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee =-.

  11. Jenny says:

    I am leery of reading this because it hasn’t got any quotation marks (and oh yeah, because of all the bleakness :P) – but you make it sound well worth the trouble!
    .-= Jenny´s last blog ..The Seagulls Woke Me, Mary Stolz =-.

  12. Leah says:

    Love your review and comments. I really want to read this now. Thank you!
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Merry Christmas! =-.

  13. Jessica says:

    Blake – I actually do need some lighters. I have exactly three matches in my house and no lighters. Thanks for not eating my puppy.

    Wisteria – I think you’ll be glad when you finally get to it.

    J.T. – Thanks! I, too, was amazed by the number of reviews. I guess between Oprah and the Pulitzer, it’s on a lot of people’s TBR lists.

    Teddy – I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’m not rushing out to see the movie either – even though I really love Viggo Mortensen.

    Jenny – The lack of quotation marks, apostrophes, and dialog attribution is a little distracting at first, but then I found it easy to ignore.

    Leah – I hope you do enjoy it when you get to it!

  14. Kathy says:

    Wow, that sounds like a powerful book. I think my whole family would enjoy it.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Wondrous Words Wednesday =-.

  15. Rebecca Reid says:

    Wow, I’ve always shied away from this due to the depressing nature of the plot, but your review makes it sound so necessary! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    .-= Rebecca Reid´s last blog ..Reading Journal (30 December): Happy New Year (Briefly) =-.

  16. Fern says:

    I’d say you’ve sold it to me, but I have a feeling it might be on my list of TBRs not yet acquired already.
    .-= Fern´s last blog ..This is Not Fern’s Blog =-.

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