Book Review: The Road – by Cormac McCarthy

This is a fairly short novel that you can read in a day or two. McCarthy tells a gripping story of horror and survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

A father and small son travel on foot somewhere on the eastern seaboard, I imagine Virginia, in October and November, as it is getting cold, in a desperate run for the coast and hopefully warmer climates. The author does not specifically state what happened to the world a few years before the story starts. We just know that there are very few people left, no animals and no wildlife of any sort. The land is burned and covered in soot and ashes inches thick. Some forest fires are still burning. There is no food to catch or to grow. The only sustenance comes from scavenged cans. The problem is that all the supermarkets were raided within the first few weeks of the catastrophe. There is very little left years later. That includes blankets, clothes, shoes and shelter of any sort.

The two main characters are nameless and only referred to as the man and the boy. The man calls the boy son, and the boy calls the man Papa. The man and they boy are pushing a grocery cart full of provisions, a few tools, rags for clothes, blankets and a tarp. They have a pistol with just a few bullets left. They are both filthy and they stink.

There is no power. So when it gets dark in the winter, it is pitch dark. The apocalyptic sky is usually overcast, so there is no light at all. They meet or see just about nobody. When they do run into somebody, it’s a murderous gang of bandits. When there is no food, people will kill for a can of tuna. They encounter cannibalism.

Besides no names, McCarthy applies several other novel techniques. One is not using quotation marks for dialog. He just lists the short dialog using indented sentences. The other is that he does not write contractions. Where I would write “can’t” he writes cant. I am not sure what reason he might have for these oddities. However, they were noticeable enough that I am writing about them here.

When I started the book, I found it extremely depressing, to the point where I almost stopped reading. Then I couldn’t put it down. It’s a frightening story.

It made me think about how tenuous our society is. If trucks stopped running, supermarkets would be empty in a matter of days. Lawlessness would take over and all provisions would be hoarded by not those with the most money or power, but those with the biggest guns and the most brutal minds. Without power, telephones would stop working. Cell phones would lose their charges within days and be useless. No computers could be used to track accounts. Food would be the only currency. Collapse of civilization could come about in a matter of weeks and utter chaos would ensue. The fact that I know how to run a business would help me nothing. I don’t know how to grow food. I am not willing to murder for food. So eventually I would starve.

Read “the Road” by McCarthy and a can of sliced peaches takes on a whole different meaning.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Road – by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Eric Petrie

    Nice review, Norbie. I love this author, my favorite living American novelist. No one touches his art. Have you read anything else by him? I highly recommend “No Country for Old Men.” And best (but strangest) of all is “Suttree.” But that book is like a Tennessee version of “Ulysses.” I love the last paragraph of “The Road,” about the mysterious pattern on the back of a trout that smells like moss. “In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” With global warming, when the trout streams in Michigan rise on average one more degree of temperature, the trout will disappear. That may happen in the next few decades.

    1. I have a hard time with his books. I tried to read “Blood Meridian” but had to stop. Check my post on Blood Meridian under “Books (not finished reading) for more detail. Sounds like I need to try Suttree, so I know what I am talking about.

      1. Eric Petrie

        Well, Norbert, I am not necessarily recommending “Suttree.” It is harder than “Blood Meridian,” in its own strange way. But at least it is about a 20th century theme, losers in a medium sized town (Knoxville) who are passed over by technological progress (the old town and its impoverished inhabitants who are forced out by a highway).

        The same thing happened to downtown Jamestown some decades before we arrived, the old dilapidated river-town was demolished in order to make the city more attractive to visitors.

        I really recommend “No Country for Old Men” and “All the Pretty Horses” as a better way into McCarthy’s strange novels.

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