The Road (Book Review)


Thanks, Chicago Public Library

I just finished the book The Road, a fantastic post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Wikipedia | Amazon

I’m a fan of the entire genre post-apocalyptic, from books to video games (Fallout) to movies (Children of Men) to TV shows (Jericho). Not because I’m looking forward to it, but because it’s such an interesting angle to Sci-Fi. Thinking of how it is going to happen and what it is going to be like is one of those questions that can roll around your head for hours, like thinking about what you would do if you won a million dollars in the lottery.

For a taste, here is a paragraph toward the end of the book that would have fit just as well in the beginning or middle:

The days sloughed past uncounted and uncalendared. Along the interstate in the distance long lines of charred and rusting cars. The raw rims of wheels sitting in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber, in blackened rings of wire. The incinerate corpses shrunk to the size of a child and propped on the bare springs of seats. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchered within their crozzled hearts. They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold. They talked hardly at all. He coughed all the time and the boy watched him spitting blood. Slumping along. Filthy, ragged, hopeless. He’d stop to lean on the cart and the boy would go on and then stop and look back and would raise his weeping eyes and see him standing there in the road looking back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle.

Characters

The Road has two main characters: The Man and The Boy. They remain unnamed the entire book, although in one brief moment at the end of the book it eludes to them having real names although they are not revealed. This strange unnamed-main-characters approach sets the stage. Some things, most things, are just not important after the apocalypse, even names.

The man and the boy run into various other folks while traveling the road. They range from really scary to gut-wrenching I’d-look-away-if-this-was-a-movie scary. But they weren’t just evil for the sake of evil types. Death was knocking at the door for everyone at all times, so killing others and taking their things meant a lot better chance for self survival.

The man was the boys caretaker and only chance at survival, as the other humans left alive in this world were anything but kind. Beyond caretaker, the man was the boys tutor – teaching him survival tactics. But the book didn’t stoop to a cliche in that regard. The man just did things and the boy watched, it wasn’t drilled into our heads that this was so the boy would have the skills he needed later like some old Western movie.

Dialog

I read the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey a while back. Despite all the controversy, I loved it. It had a very unique dialog style (how it was printed to the page, not what the characters said) that helped the book flow better. This dialog in this book was handled similarly:

Yeah, but stories are supposed to be happy.
They don’t have to be.
You always tell happy stories.
You don’t have any happy ones?
They’re more like real life.
But my stories are not.
Your stories are not. No.
The man watched him. Real life is pretty bad?

In other words, there isn’t any quotation marks, or “the man said” “they boy said” business to distract us. It’s only two characters here, it’s easy enough to know who is talking. It’s also easy enough to know when the words describe something rather than being spoken words like “The man watched him” above.

The Movie

There is a movie coming out with Viggo Mortensen as the man. I have high hopes and low expectations. The official trailer doesn’t allow embedding, but this is the same exact thing elsewhere on YouTube. I don’t expect it to last long.

There were some other clips I found around the interwebs, but they actually were very spoiler-y to me and I’m choosing not to embed them.

The book doesn’t deal with the how of apocalypse at all, and the trailer focuses on that right away, making it seem like a natural-disaster thriller. Perhaps Hollywood thinks people won’t like a film with an unexplained wasteland. I thought the book was far better for it. If there was some big explanation about why the world was the way it was, it would have served as a big distraction instead of having us focus on the characters and their situation.

I also feel like Charlize Theron is going to be shoehorned in a little awkwardly, so the audience can have little hot-chick breaks.

Typography

The last page of the book:

A NOTE ON THE TYPE

This book was set in a typeface called Bulmer. This distinquished letter is a replica of a type long famous in the history of English printing which was designed and cut by William Martin about 1790 for William Bulmer of the Shakespeare Press. In design, it is all but a modern face, with vertical stress and nearly flat serifs. The decorative italic shows the influence of Baskerville, as Martin was a pupil of John Baskerville’s.

8 responses to “The Road (Book Review)”

  1. kyle says:

    One of my favourite books of recent years. I’ll probably see the movie, but early reviews have not been good, and I don’t really see it translating well into a movie. Theron’s role looks much bigger in the movie too, which dashes my hopes even further.

    Nice review though. Looking forward to more.

  2. Josh says:

    I was looking forward to that movie, but didn’t know there was a book, I should check it out.

    I just read a book called Alas, Babylon that was a “what if the russians had nuked us?” book written in the 60’s. I enjoyed it. It was not very scifi but focused on the fight for survival. It is a quick read if you are looking for something else in that vein.

  3. Gavin Steele says:

    Wow that was a great review. I was actually looking at getting this as part of a three book collection in the UK but it was just to bulky to take on the plane.

    Thanks for not posting any spoilers.

    I think I am going to have a look at getting an e-reader of some sort as I am in the middle of traveling. So if this is available then I’ll download it.

    Thanks again.

  4. Tommy says:

    The Road is next on my list of books to read.

    I love how my first car makes an appearance at the :28 mark, the shitty red Pontiac.

  5. Fortboy says:

    I’m halfway through the Road on my new Kindle. I watched No Country for Old Men last week and really enjoyed the dialogue and when reading up on that movie I learned that most of the dialogue was true to the book. So, I then researched the author of NCFOM and read up Cormac McCarthy and noticed that one book about the apocalypse won a Pulitzer. I was intrigued. I couldn’t hardly put the book down last night. It is that good. Great review and I can’t wait to get back to my book now!

  6. beardoboyo says:

    There is a part in the novel where it switches tofirst person narration. I cannot find it now, but was surprised when it appeared as I read, as it seemed it would lead to introducing a character who had been following/watching the man and boy. WHat do you think it meant?

  7. Kelsie says:

    Seriously? I hated the book. I was excited to read it. I was required to read the first fifty pages for class tomorrow and couldn’t stop so i finished it tonight. I’m pissed. What was the point of that? The whole time I was waiting to find out that the boy was just the mans imagination. Or maybe the dad would have to kill the boy himself. Or at least some sort of turning point. I kept trying to guess the ending and failed when really thinking logically it was the only ending that you could easily expect to be bored by. I kept waiting to hear more about the fire they were carrying, and whatever the deal was with the boys mother. did she just kill herself? thats it? Also what the heck is with all the made up words. That was driving me crazy. like it was supposed to be some sort of modernized shakespearian iambic pentameter crap. I like made up words just as much as the next person but maybe one or two per novel is the max. Not 2 or more per sentance. This book could have been so much better. and what is so special about the father son relationship? They barely speak and when they do it is “I dont know what do you think….” sprinkled with some “Are we still the good guys?” Sure an interesting question the first time I read it and then it just became monotonous. We get it, you doubt your motives. And really i think it is fairly safe to assume that several other father son pairs had the exact same situation where the father repeatedly risked himself for the son. Nothing new there.

    So was the kid a god? What was the fire they were carrying? I am extremely frustrated that I have spent so much time reading this novel. What on earth was the point? I could have spent that time appreciating the color and life and food and warmth in my pre-apocolyptic world. Did I miss something great and philosphical? To me it just seemed like a morbid ugly picture to look at. I understand that painfull and upsetting images like the raft of the medusa or what have you are much more interesting than unicorns kissing in a field but at least the raft of the medusa has a hint of beauty and balance and skill in it. In the road the only images I got were hideously ugly and morbid. A charred baby infant half eaten…. Seriously? This is what you call a masterpiece. This is definetly not my favorite novel.

    Not for me at all.

    Severly disapointed.

    Severly disapointed.

  8. James says:

    To Kelsie,

    I think you did miss the point of the entire thing, that is the stylistic idea, that there is no point, mankind is slowly winding down towards its own inevitable end. I think you were expecting the book the trailer makes it out to be, some kind of racy sci-fi thriller that is fast paced and has a lot of action. I wasn’t written in a commercially minded way which makes the film hard to market to its potential audeince. I’ve read the book and seen the film and they’re designed to make you think about something more than what is being depicted, like a metaphor for as you said a philosophical idea. It is supposed to show us what the real world would look like if this kind of thing happened, whatever did happen.

    The reason it was ugly and morbid is because that is how McCartney percieves the human race under those circumstances. It is a book that serves a purpose, unlike most that have Yes, happy) endings but also endings that were predictable, and commercially engineered to produce emotions of happiness, romance, tension, e.t.c. of getting people to talk about it and to have differing opinions, like me and you.

    There is however a speck of comparative beauty at the end of the book, not giving any spoilers, and the whole style has a sort of morbid beauty to it I think, the colours and the landscapes have a sense of melancholy that I would describe as beautiful.

    Anyways that was my opinion,

    James

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