Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

At summer's end, a friend told me a story about her adolescent daughter. The girl and her friends went to see the film United 93. When asked their opinion, the consensus was: They should have changed the ending.

And, while that statement is funny and sad and horrifying and tragic, don't we all wish we could change the ending?

We wish and we wished. No such luck.

I've been thinking about the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall and nuclear disarmament. It seemed we wished it away, and it came back with a different concept, a new face. Cormac McCarthy must have been mulling over the rebirth of nuclear war for some time to draft The Road, a masterpiece in sheer gut punching horror and grief.

The novel brings to mind filmic depictions of our world's demise like Threads and The Day After, both horrifying to me as an adolescent, but unlike either, does something amazing. Now, I have to tell you, I'm a McCarthy virgin and the format in this book may be common to his work, but it was applaudingly effective. His prose is stripped down, and raw, consisting of brief passages like influenzic moments of wakefulness. Even the spare dialogue seems to draw the reader in to the story, as though whispered. Brilliant, really (I could never get away with it).

McCarthy's world is covered in a "carbon fog" of ash.

The title character coils and buckles out across a dead land. A nameless father and son trudge endlessly to an uncertain end. The few others shambling upon it have been sloughed of their humanity. I don't want to synopsize the story. If anything, I'd like this review to be about emotional reaction. There were times I was breathless and amber with anxiety, so terribly hoping, rooting for the family, only to be sunk through and tearful.

I'd like to say that, ultimately, the book is hopeful, but it's not. Nor should it be. This is the amazing thing. While those films from the '80s left the viewer with a sense that the human race could survive or should, The Road avoids that disservice. Instead, and rightly so, it shows us that a world capable of destroying itself, should be left without hope. If your going to take a look at the aftermath of nuclear weapons, then take a look, and learn something. The book should be required reading in our high schools, considering…

PS. This isn't my first draft of this review. I deleted that one, but reading this again, there's something sorely lacking. The relationship between the father and son in the novel, was heartbreaking. I was jealous of the connection. I wasn't expecting that emotion, nor was I initially willing to express it, but it's there. I suppose my reaction would have been different was I closer to my own father, or had I a child of my own. The duty in his care is so steely…

That's enough.

Next Book: The Shadowkiller: A Novel by Matthew Scott Hansen