Literature Commentary: The Road

10 Sep

I’m a huge fan of postapocalyptic stories. From “Mortal Engines” and “The City of Ember” to “Alas, Babylon” and “The Last Jihad,” there’s something inexplicably fascinating about the end of the world. After reading a review of Cormac McCarthy’s bestselling novel, “The Road,” and learning that a film adaptation is in the works, I picked up the book during my most recent trip to the library. This morning, I finished it…

…and was extremely impressed.

“The Road” follows an unnamed man and his son as they trudge through a burned-out America, desperately trying to find food and shelter and evade the bloodthirsty gangs that prowl the wasted landscape. There is no long-term vision other than survival. The story revolves around their experiences during a particularly arduous portion of their journey, and the bond of companionship they share.

A simple idea…isn’t it?

McCarthy’s prose is lyrical, fluid, and poetic. He crafts a story spellbinding in its vision and simplicity, powerfully contrasting the harsh realities of the ruined world with the indomitable spirit of sacrificial love that the father and his son possess. The metaphor of “carrying the fire” is used throughout to illustrate their journey: they are but a candle in the midst of an infinite darkness, but somehow, they are not without hope.

It should be said that this is by no means a story for young or sensitive readers. The imagery is horrific. The book contains numerous, graphic depictions of cannibalism, murder, decaying corpses, and slavery (there’s one particularly disturbing scene towards the end of the book that will put “The Road” off-limits for most readers). The concept itself – America reduced to a blackened wasteland, haunted by the lowest filth of the earth – is nightmarish.

In any other book, these scenes would be horribly depressing. And in one sense, they are. But the wonder of “The Road” is that it somehow manages to show the depravity of man without being consumed by it. The father and his son obviously hold to a concept of objective morality, refusing to succumb to the insanity of their surroundings. While the book is not explicitly theological, the issue of God is raised throughout…and the childlike faith of the boy is a beacon of reassuring light to both him and his father. Even in the midst of unspeakable horror, the general understanding is that a divine power is still in control.

“The Road” is not a traditional novel. It is a story of unbearable suffering, hardship, and heartache…but also a story of courage, love, and honor. I highly recommend “The Road” to readers who can appreciate beauty amid horror, and can endure a gauntlet of darkness in order for that beauty to shine forth.

A mesmerizing, haunting portrait of postapocalyptic America and its last inhabitants.

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Posted by on September 10, 2009 in Contemporary


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