Monday, October 4, 2010

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road (Movie Tie-in Edition 2009) (Vintage International) This book left me unable to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down for a few weeks. Though I'm still not giving it either, per se, I feel that I've processed it enough to form an opinion at this point. It's dark. It's dreary. It's post-apocalyptic, and unfortunately it never says what really happened to cover the world in ash and leave some good guys and some bad guys to trek along eating their own kind or scavenging for canned goods and soap in deserted basements. The main characters have no names; they're "the man" and "the boy." They're some of the few people left, and they're trying to make it across the country (or at least a big chunk of it) to the sea.

Because I read the book, I will not see the movie. There are two main reasons:
1. The book is written so beautifully, it's like 200+ pages of sheer poetry. McCarthy paints his bleak images with words as skillfully as Dali painted his vibrantly colored clocks dripping down the page with oil paints. I wasn't completely sure I was going to buy it even though I'd heard good things about it, so I sat down in the play area with Ramona. She played with trains and I started down the long, long, LONG (there are no chapter breaks) path that was The Road. I was instantly locked in, moved by the language. I'm a sucker for language. Before I knew it, I was 15 or 20 pages in and Ramona wanted to leave. So I bought it.

2. Because the imagery is so good, I have no desire to see it "in real life" on the screen. What's in my head is enough to haunt me. I think they must leave the baby boy roasting on a spit out of the movie, but they don't leave out the basement of people who are trapped and waiting to be eaten. I haven't heard one way or the other about the pitiful, desperate old man the main characters leave in the road to die, naked, after he tries to steal their cart full of goods and even their shoes. (I can't say that I blame the dad for being so angry at the man, because if the man had succeeded in taking their food and shoes, they'd have died. I still understand the old man's perspective as well.) There's no reason for me to reinforce any of these images in my mind.

The most action in the book is when the dad has to pull a gun on a guy who threatens his son. There's also the basement part. Most of the book makes you feel as if you're trudging along beside them, except your stomach may be full. There's not a lot more. They're walking, you're reading. You may even feel guilty for seeing an odd beauty in the destruction (thanks to the word choices) as you drag your feet along with them, a little off the main road.

The father-son relationship will bring you to tears at points. They each try to give up things so the other can have them. The dad makes himself a cup of hot water and sprinkles the last bit of instant hot chocolate in the cup for his son, pretending that he has some too so that the son won't feel bad. Typical parent moment in the midst of the desolate world. Sometimes the boy is the father's conscience when the father is too hardened from trying to protect and feed his son and himself.

I'm not disappointed that I read it or sad that I bought it. I do wish there was more of an explanation about what happened, a few more "action" points, and maybe one more ray of sunshine through the ash. It was depressing, but after a stint of reading the Pretty Little Liars books, it was almost a welcome change. Almost. If you love language and you don't mind a gruesome image here and there that may stay with you long after you've closed the book, I recommend it. If you don't like heavy reads that illustrate what could be a very real future, stay away.