Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: The Road

With the country resting safely in the hands of the man with the plan, and with almost nothing happening in the sports world, The Common Man is finally getting around to reviewing Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Road (he finished it over two days around Christmas.

The book follows a father and a son (neither are given names) as they make their way across a post-apocolyptic United States. The land around them is burned and barren, and stripped of almost anything edible. Painfully aware that they are starving to death and cannot last another winter (the temperature has dropped dramatically as the result of some cateclysm that has left the land poisoned, the sky clouded, and ash everywhere), the pair heads vaguely south and east, trying to reach the sea. Along the way they starve, meet hostile survivors, and simply try to perservere, pushing their shopping cart of belongings down the road, through the snow, and across what's left of the country.

McCarthy's novel is terrible and sad, but full of individual moments of triumph that transcend the horrible reality in which the father and son find themselves. Their joy, particularly in the face of the overwhelming brutality of their new America, is infectious, and well rendered. And despite not telling his readers much about the bleak near-future he has imagined, McCarthy creates a realistic vision of a dying world and its people.

The novel is even darker than his previous novel, No Country For Old Men (reviewed here), but less fatalistic. The father and son tell themselves that they "carry the flame" of humanity, that their moral actions prove that humanity's goodness is not entirely gone. And the father's central goal, to keep his boy safe, proves that, despite the depravity around them, their hope for the future is still intact.

The other truly remarkable aspect of McCarthy's book is the relationship he draws between the father and son. McCarthy's story, above all, is the story of this father's enduring love for his boy, and his determination to see him safe. The father is constantly teaching the boy, preparing him for a day when his father will not be there. And really, that is the essence of fatherhood. Regardless of how far-fetched McCarthy's setting may seem to you, that love and that relationship is universal, as is the desire to pass on the flame. After all, why else would people decide to have children if not to pass on the flame. As the heart around this novel is based, it is a moving relationship that every father and mother can connect to, and every child should appreciate.

The Road is a very powerful read, and you can do it quickly. The characters speak in short, simple dialogue, there are almost no long passages. Just miles and miles and miles of walking and talking. And while it's the most grueling walk you'll take all year, it's also the best and most rewarding (far better than actual exercise). The Common Man is excited for the film version, which will presumably be released this fall.

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