Sunday, August 09, 2009

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The post-apocalyptic genre seems to have made a comeback in recent years, with loads of video game franchises and “original” productions filling the visual void, and novels like The Road taking up the mantle of literature to finally offer a bit of fresh blood into the post-apocalyptic gene pool. That said, The Road is both an example of good and bad things coming together, with many of its issues being caused by its hype. The Road follows an unnamed man and his unnamed son as they trek across a devastated, hostile landscape in search of a safe haven near the ocean. We’re not told exactly where this safe place is, and we’re led to believe that the man doesn’t really know either. Their travels lead them on an emotional journey through illness, ambushes by less-than-savory characters, and horrid weather. It’s hard to describe the plot of The Road, because this is not a piece driven by plot. Instead, McCarthy’s novel is one that wants us to know the characters, even if we never find out who they really are, where they came from, etc. They are, in a way, anonymous, and, perhaps, for good reason. Some metaphors could certainly be gleaned from McCarthy’s approach to his characters, but ultimately this novel is less about metaphors and more about a father and son defying the odds. Being a character piece, The Road does not spend time explaining how the world ended up the way it did, nor providing many answers to how things fell apart after the end times began. Leaving these questions unanswered might be difficult to understand for most genre fans. Regardless, it’s hard not to enjoy The Road, because despite its failures to show us the world, it managed to capture me on an emotional level, which few books are able to do. Still, The Road is not without faults. As much as I enjoyed The Road, I have to admit that it was not the book I had expected it to be. Critics and Oprah’s followers have proclaimed it one of the best books in recent years, and the novel has, as a result, won several prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer. In all honesty, The Road may be good, but it is not the best of its brand. What it creates in emotional efficacy and hopeless willpower does not draw away from the reality of its roots: it is not, by a long shot, original to the post-apocalyptic genre. This is a story that has been told before, and to greater effect by authors present some decades ago. Hailing The Road as a piece of literary genius misses the mark. The Road is entertainment, and while there is nothing wrong with literature as entertainment, there is something wrong with claiming a book to be something it is not. This would be like calling a Nicolas Spark novel “the next Pride and Prejudice.” Despite this criticism, however, I thought The Road was an excellent novel that captured the emotion it needed to in order to create a dark, hopeless post-apocalyptic world. Sometimes entertaining literature is good enough as that, and since I tend to read literature to be entertained, this one did its job ten-fold. If you’d like to learn more about The Road, check out its RandomHouse page here. You can find out more about Cormac McCarthy at his website. The Road can be found pretty much everywhere. I’d be surprised if your local bookstore didn’t have it seeing how it’s now a major motion picture.

5 comments:

SciFiGuy said...

I love post apocalyptic fiction and read The Road when it first came out. For me it is one of those books whose popularity phenomenon bewilders me. Everything that was said and done in the novel could have been summed up in a concise 15 page short story and would have been the better for it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I am not a fan of this author. Apparently the MFA folks have discovered the thing that the rest of us have known all along---that genre sells. Now they just have to read enough genre to start understanding it. And as for the Pulitzer Prize..I used to have more respect for awards before I started doing research on them.

SQT said...

I tried to read McCarthy before and just couldn't do it. The fact that it's on an Oprah list just confirms that it isn't going to be my taste.

ShadowFalcon said...

I've had the road in my bookcase for a while now but I'm just not in the right mood for it yet, did grip me quick enough. Now I've read your review might be time to try again but I have to agree with SQT the Oprah list is a real turn off.

kingofthenerds said...

I started The Road but can't really get into. For all its eloquence something just didn't feel right about it.