Monday, August 22, 2011
Review: The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
My sister, April, recommended this book to me. She gave it four stars. I have to disagree with her however. I read most of this book while I was traveling. I read it while in airports, on flights and in a hotel room. I was also usually sleepy while reading. Perhaps I just missed the coherent plot.
The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The narrator and his son are traveling the main road of the title. They are usually cold and are traveling south in search of warmer weather. They are also usually hungry, so along the way, they search for food and supplies while doing their best to avoid disagreeable characters who would like to do them harm such as eating them to satisfy their own hunger.
What caused the state of the world does not seem to be unknown to the characters in the book, but nobody bothers to share that information with the reader. Ash covers everything, and people wear masks or breathing apparatuses to keep from breathing it. However, the source of the ash is left unknown. Did a supervolcano erupt or did a giant asteroid crash into the Earth like the KT event that wiped out the dinosaurs? One of the categories listed in the Library of Congress information in the front of the book is "Voyages and travels - United States". I do not think it was established for certain that the location was the United States. The characters speak English, but I think somebody reading a translation of the book would think the location was some other country. There are a couple of references to Spanish including the son finding a coin with Spanish writing. Perhaps our travelers made it all the way to Mexico or perhaps some Latin American country or countries attacked the US which then retaliated with atomic weapons and thus brought about nuclear winter. That would also help explain why the cities seem to be in ruins.
I will grant that establishing the reason for the dystopian environment is frequently not a top priority in many works of the post-apocalyptic genre. For instance, I do not remember if it was established why society broke down in the Mad Max movie franchise. In more recent movies and televisions series, the situation is caused by an alien invasion or a rampant disease that created zombies or vampires. In the Kevin Coster epic Waterworld, the polar icecaps melt and cover the world with undrinkable seawater. I assume global warming caused the icecaps to melt, but that is a political argument which is not relevant here. Anyway, I think all of those reasons can safely be eliminated as culprits for the world of The Road. The reader is left either wondering or simply not caring.
Another problem that I have with the book is the author's writing style. I have not read any of Cormac McCarthy's other works, but this book has a distinctly spare style. I suppose when the world goes to hell in a handbasket, the first thing that will be lost is punctuation. The lack of quotation marks is particularly annoying and makes the dialogue difficult to follow. Another casualty of the breakdown is names, both for people and locations. The lack of place names leads to the ambiguity in regards to the settings for the book. Neither the man, his son, nor the dead wife and mother are named in the book. The only character to be named in the book is a stranger that the two main character encounter near the end of the book. The man gives his name as Ely, but it is quickly established that he is lying. I suppose that names are irrelevant in this new world.
The book is very emotional and runs the gamut of emotions with some scenes that are touching, some that are exciting, and some that are very disturbing. While the relationship between the father and the son is the primary focus, the book also does a good job of expressing the stress associated with fighting for survival in that trying environment. I found the ending of the book to be anticlimactic except that would imply there was a climax. Like a starving man in a post-apocalyptic world, the book does not end as much as it just slowly curls up and dies.
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