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The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Review)
Think of a place you have been. Any place. Think of home! Sit on a soft chair, and imagine being there. Look around. Sniff. Breathe deeply. Feel the air. The air is soft and you can smell different things… flowers, cooking food. Your clothes are rustled by the occasional gentle breeze through the open window, or a pet snuggles up to you. You look outside and see the green of the trees. Your clothes are clean and so are you. You are enjoying yourself. Life is good.
Now you are outside, far away from home. It’s drizzling. What a pleasant, warm light rain. You begin to walk down the road toward your shelter. Forests line both sides of the road and it is becoming darker. But it’s nothing you can’t handle.
It’s become chillier now. The rain is heavier, colder, darker even. The wind is whipping your insufficient clothes around you. Something is in your eyes and on your lips. It’s ash. Your face mask is gone. There is ash all around you, in drifts. The green is gone. The rain is gray. The road is gray. The sky is gray. The mountains ahead are dark gray. The skeletons of the dead trees around you are black.
You keep walking. There is no shelter. You are very cold. When was the last time you ate something? You have been walking a very long time now. Your shoelaces have disintegrated. Snow has settled onto your shoulders. There is ash in your mouth. You want to brush your teeth but you don’t have a brush. Or toothpaste. You want a hot bath but there is no water, or soap. Or a bathtub. Or a place. You stink. You are so, so cold.
Everything still smells burned. You push your few possessions in a supermarket cart with a broken wheel that you found some time ago. How long ago? You don’t remember. Your light shoes are unable to withstand the wetness and your feet are icy and sopping. You want to make a fire but you have no lighter fluid left and your flint must have fallen through a hole in your clothes. The branches are too damp anyway. It’s just as well. Someone might see.
You think someone is behind you, but you never see them clearly enough. You are soaking wet and filthy with ash. You have developed a cough and everything hurts. You have to keep going. You’re so hungry. So thirsty. You stop and use your sleeve to filter some water from a puddle into the old can you use as a cup.
As you drink, you spy something off the road that looks promising - an old campsite. You investigate, but instead of cans of food you find picked-over human bones. Back to the road. Keep walking. You have a gun with two rounds in it, in case. You have been walking for years.
Are you alone?
No? Who is with you?
If you answered with the name of your love, forget it. That person killed themselves a long time ago. You are with your young child and he has no knowledge of the world before.
In Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, a nameless man and his young son brave the state road over several years to get to the southern coast. Everything under and including the sun has been blighted by a catastrophe and horrors wait around each turn. Desperate to protect his child, the man cares for him as best he can in a world with few necessities and no comforts… except each other.
This book is sparely written, but poetic and beautifully devastating. The lack of quotation and apostrophe marks illustrate the story. McCarthy’s use of language is spot on, and he used some words I actually had to look up. (I like that in a book.) One thing is for sure… you cannot put it down. And it’s a Knopf publication (what a great publishing house!) The black and red cover is designed by Chip Kidd (graphic designer extraordinaire and author ofThe Cheese Monkeys).
And the situations! When the boy tastes a scavenged can of Coke for the first time, so do you. When you learn he has thrown away a flute that he used to play, your heart is touched as you see him make his own choices. As his father protects him from dangers, you are protected too… or are you the protector? Do you choose ruthless survivalism or trusting compassionism? There must be something in between, yes? This book shows what humans are capable of – in good and bad ways. Try putting yourself in each character’s situations (and not just the of the man and his son). What would you be able to do? Think very hard. The answer is clear – you do what you have to do.
Personally, I'm a road lover. But this book makes me rethink all the roads I’ve ever traveled. And I have never been so happy to see the sun as I was after finishing this one.
theclevercat's rating: Five out of five dust masks, and a hug from a loved one. A definite read. No wonder it won a Pulitzer Prize!