THE ROAD - CORMAC MCCARTHY

The searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

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The story opens on a post-apocalyptic scene of a father and son traveling through cold, desolate country. What caused these conditions is never fully revealed, but readers may be surprised to find that the why or how of the disaster itself doesn't play a huge importance in the storyline. All we get are descriptions of "cold", "gray", "ash covered" with periodic spottings of other humans, usually of a threatening nature. People have become so desperate for food to the point of sometimes resorting to cannibalism.

 

The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening.

 

 

The main focus of the novel is on the relationship between the never-named man and his young son. The father knows they can't survive forever in the kind of cold climate they've been fighting against, so he's pushing his son to move south, hoping to find warmer temps and coastline. The trip has to be made on foot as there seems to be no cars, gas or the kindness of others to help them along. Even food, clothing & tool replenishments must be made of whatever they can scrape together or pilfer from abandoned sites along the way. That's essentially it, one long road trip on foot and what they encounter along the way. Might not sound like much initially but it's the way McCarthy writes that makes this story hit home so well! He also helps keep the pages turning by throwing in bursts of action in between all the conversations and inner monologues. 

 

That hurt, didn't it? the boy said.

Yes. It did. 

Are you real brave? 

Just medium.

What's the bravest thing you ever did?

He spat into the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said. 

 

If you're on a warm fuzzy kick with your reading lately, you might want to put this one off a while longer because none of that is to be found here! This one is cold, grim and heartbreaking but has a beauty to its honesty that really touched me. I felt so bad for the young son, with all the hardships he had to endure and the violent scenes he had to witness at his age, what that's done to his innocence and spirit. My heart broke for the father in the moments when he's breaking down, overcome with the feeling that he's letting down his son though he's doing everything in his power to be the best protector and provider. Some may read this story and think the father was hard on the son, but keep in mind the world they are living in. I would think, in those conditions, a little tough love would be necessary to stay on guard and alive!

 

There's no quotation marks used with the dialogue, which normally drives me mad when I'm reading but somehow McCarthy was able to write the back-and-forths so well that it's hard to mistake who is who. This one definitely had me thinking what I might do in this sort of end-of-days situation. I can see now why this book has been recommended to me so often! It has that amazing sparse writing style that, when done well (and it is a talent to do it well), can so effectively shatter me. It's a quick read, definitely check it out! 

 

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Bonus

 

Thoughts after watching the movie adapt. :

 

Man, I thought I liked the book! I see now that the movie offers its share of powerful visuals as well! Can't quite decide which I liked better --- there were some pretty emotional scenes in the novel that still stick in my memory, but they were just as wrenching when portrayed by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen (who plays that unnamed father lead). This is one of those times where I feel like the two together, book and film, make a dynamite package experience. 

 

The film follows the novel's layout pretty closely. I definitely recommend watching the behind-the-scenes bonuses if you happen to be watching this from the DVD (rather than on tv or something, that is). There's a lot of fun trivia offered up in those shorts. When I first saw the trailer for this film I figured it would be largely CGI'd to create that grey, desolate world McCarthy describes... come to find out they actually shot in real-life post-disaster zones (such as New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina hit).

 

It was also interesting (and a little disturbing) to learn that Mortensen went on a near starvation diet to whittle his physique down to that of a man who would've been struggling to find food sources. Mortensen himself shares stories of being thrown out of various business establishments (when not filming) when people would assume he was a homeless person! 

 

I found the film absolutely gripping -- seriously could not look away! -- but I will warn sensitive viewers that this film does have some pretty graphic scenes: some involving nudity (one of half-mad nude people all tangled up together in a basement), people coughing blood; sinks full of blood; some primitive techniques involving wound care that had me cringing a bit; a scene where Charlize Theron -- who has a small part at the beginning of the film as the wife of Mortensen's character -- is working through a home birth and lets out one hell of a primal scream! There's also one sad, somewhat chilling scene where Mortensen's character is explaining suicide to his son. If you feel you can stomach all that, this is one film I would highly recommend trying out!