The personal website of Chris Coyier

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.