Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
Is Still A Gut Punch
Bargain Book Reviews
Modern Times Magazine breaks down works of literature that are readily available in the bargain bin or at your local discount bookstore.
MTM Rating: 10/10
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Vintage Books/Random House
Pages: 304 pages
First printing: 2006
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 5, 2013 — How far would you go to protect the one you love? That is the driving question behind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Due in part to the prolific author’s popularity, the 2009 film adaptation and an Oprah’s Book Club designation, you can easily find this outstanding piece of contemporary American fiction at most second
hand book stores.
The Road, published in 2006, is McCarthy’s most recent novel and marks a departure from the themes and settings of his earlier work. Prior to 2006, the author’s novels could largely be broken into two distinct categories: Southern Gothic and Western.
The Road, conversely, is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where bands of marauding cannibals tear through the barren wasteland as others attempt to survive off of what dwindling food sources they can swipe from abandoned stores and homes. Because of some unknown disaster that rendered the world mostly dark and unable to support life, every day is a struggle to survive for McCarthy’s protagonists, an unnamed man and his young son.
McCarthy beautifully paints the desolate landscape, utilizing the sparse style that has set him apart from many other American authors. Rather than waste space on superfluous verbiage or punctuation for that matter, McCarthy carefully places each word on the page in order to achieve the intended effect.
And the results are brilliant. Despite the fact that much of the atmosphere that McCarthy describes does not exist in the contemporary world, the images are vivid, and the grotesque scents are palpable.
The setting of the novel is really a character unto itself as it interplays with the characters to capture the mood for which McCarthy is reaching. The author uses the interplay of humans and nature and the silence of the post-apocalyptic world to slowly build tension and illustrate just how desperate and afraid the characters are.
The story follows the father and son as they attempt to travel South in order to survive the coming winter. While they have few supplies and even less shelter from the weather and the cannibals, the two rely on each other’s strengths as they travel through the wasteland.
The framework of this story may seem extreme, but McCarthy actually uses it to tell an extremely down-to-earth and relatable story concerning a father’s love for his son.
Using a mostly third person narrative, the author is able to show the internal struggle the older character faces as he attempts to remain strong for his son in the face of impossible odds. Additionally, McCarthy has an ability to not only create vivid characters, but have them interact in a profound and meaningful way.
Rather than use the child as a one-dimensional prop to highlight the father’s struggle, McCarthy creates, in the son, a rounded, if not fully-developed, human being that is facing his own conflicts and struggles as he grows up in a world unrecognizable to his father.
It is that dichotomous relationship that sets this story apart. McCarthy reminds the reader over and over again that the father is not only struggling to help his son survive but trying to relate to a son who has never known what normal is.
One of the most touching scenes in the novel centers around the father and son sharing a can of Coke, something the boy has never tasted, found in an abandoned grocery store.
Scenes like this highlight McCarthy’s numerous strengths as a scribe. He has an acute knowledge of human interaction that makes these scenes palpable. For a moment, to the characters and to the reader, all of the danger and chaos disappear as the writer focuses squarely on the sensations surrounding the consumption of the sugary drink.
It is these realistic interpretations that make this such a gut-wrenching novel. Rather than feel alienated by characters in such an outlandish situation, the reader really empathizes with the father and son because McCarthy has formed them so well.
I am confident that Cormac McCarthy will go down as one of the most prolific and talented American authors of the late-20th and early 21st centuries and this novel is a perfect example as to why.
With a deft and trained hand, he crafted The Road, a novel of the human condition. McCarthy continues to get better with age, making this novel one of his best yet.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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