The Road

Review From User :

I really feel compelled to write up a review of McCarthy's The Road as this book really worked for me (for those of you who haven't read it, there are no real spoilers below, only random quotes and thematic commentary). I read it last night in one sitting. Hours of almost nonstop reading. I found it to be an excellent book on so many levels that I am at a loss as to where to begin. It was at once gripping, terrifying, utterly heart-wrenching, and completely beautiful. I have read most of McCarthy's other books and am already a big fan, but this one is different, perhaps his best in terms of lean, masterful prose, plot presentation, and flat-out brilliant storytelling.

Take this passage for example: "The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. Often he had to get up. No sound but the wind in the bare blackened trees. He rose and stood tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckonings. An old chronicle." Happy times! The word choice and imagery is classic McCarthy yet is leaner and more honed, tighter and in turn more intense. The whole book follows this pattern. No word, not a single one, is extraneous. This is perhaps my favorite single sentence in the book: "By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp." I just love that.

Clearly this book struck a chord with me due to the two protagonists and their predicament, a father and his young son struggling in a post-apocalyptic world. To say I could identify with their interactions would be a huge understatement. McCarthy absolutely nails their dialog, making me marvel at how well he has mastered presenting on a page the way we communicate (it isn't exactly how we talk, of course, it just seems that way. Through some sort of magic, he writes dialog that comes across more realistically than actual dialog. Witchcraft for sure.). The young son was especially well done and was most certainly the most complicated character in the book. McCarthy presents him as a sort of supernatural being (Christ figure), of only the best sort, full of goodness, a thing not of the world in which he finds himself. He is effortlessly drawn down the path of the righteous throughout the book, as if he is God's right hand man. The reward appears, at least superficially, to be key moments of luck.

It almost wouldn't work from a literary standpoint if it didn't serve so well as a vehicle to reinforce the central theme of the book: the undeniable power of love over all else. The theme of love, mostly presented through the bond of the father and son, is so well done as to evoke strong emotions, even now, as I consider how to present its keen development throughout the novel. To be so desperate, in every way and at all times, and yet to survive and at times thrive, to persevere through terrible events of unbelievable horror (think Steven King's The Stand on steroids) would strike feelings of great, sad compassion in even the most tempered soul. But it is much more than that of course. Consider this passage, a speaking passage from father to son, spoken during one of the most tense and horrifying scenes in the book: "You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand" In this one passage, McCarthy shows the great contradiction in this theme of love, the idea that violence and beauty can spring fourth from the same well, can come from the same fountainhead. Interestingly, the father often resorts to violence in his role as a servant of love (he sees it as his duty, in a religious sense, as stated in the quote). Yet the boy never does and appears better for it, in so many ways, even in that terrible place. He is the embodiment of pure goodness, and sets up the other, better side of love, the side that is unsullied by the world, that never resorts to baseness and violence, that finds beauty in even to most unlikely of places. Like seeing a picture better when you hold it up to the light, the contrasts between these two sides is masterfully provided, page after page, in only the most well written and considered prose.

The often repeated promethean phrase "carrying the fire," agreed upon by the two protagonists as pretty much the whole point of their continuing, embodies this central theme. The boy is carrying the fire for us all, and is perhaps the most important survivor in that shattered world, bearing the torch of love for humanity to share when it is again ready. Not to belabor the point, but the way McCarthy handles this, all the way until the end, is nothing short of genius. Can you tell I liked the book yet I am amazed that I missed this book for so long, me being a huge McCarthy fan and placing him squarely at the top of the "big four" (with DeLillo, Roth, and Pynchon). The book is so "it's own" that as soon as I felt myself feeling an influence (for example, I swore I smelled Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea in terms of prose/theme, and the more terrifyingly cruel parts at times rang so much like Kosinski's The Painted Bird ), McCarthy would insert the perfect McCarthyism, solidly planting the flag (so to speak) of a phrase or sentence into the passage to claim it forever for himself, like a prosaic explorer figuratively pushing out into the unknown through deft assemblages of words and phases impossible to all but him (ok, that metaphor was way too much.time to wrap it up). Of course I have more to say but am beginning to risk (actually have already thoroughly risked) repeating myself and sounding like some deranged, McCarthy stalker-type. Check this one out. It is superior literature.


A searing, post apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.

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