Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 287

First sentence: When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

I meant to read this book for the NYT Notable Challenge last year. I was even fortunate enough to win a copy in the October giveaway at Estella's Revenge. Yet I never got around to it, partially because of the bleak subject matter, and in part because of its selection as an Oprah book. I picked it up on a whim last week, and plunged right in.

The Road is a bleak, dismal novel. A father and son are travelling south on a road in a world utterly destroyed by a cataclysmic event that occurred years prior to the novel's setting, possibly caused by nuclear warfare. The plot consists of a few basic activities: walk, forage, starve, rain, sleep, starve, and walk some more. The whole world has been reduced to ash and gray snow; the only sustenance that remains are canned goods hidden away in long-abandoned homes. The narrative is simple; it is as if the father and son do not have enough energy to utter more words than the practical and essential.

They looked at each other.
One more.
I dont want you to get sick.
I wont get sick.
You havent eaten in a long time.
I know.
Okay. (p.141)

In this world, negative contractions are laid bare without their apostrophe's, and quotation marks are extinct. I wonder if the apocalypse burned all of the punctuation, or if this style is consistent in McCarthy's novels? 

One theme that particularly stood out was the reference to the father and son "carrying the fire".

We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We're starving now.
You said we werent.
I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.
No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we're the good guys.
And we're carrying the fire.
And we're carrying the fire, yes.


You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it.

What is McCarthy's meaning? At first, I thought it meant that the young boy was a symbol of the continuation of the human race. After finishing the whole novel, I'm more inclined to think that "carrying the fire" refers to never losing hope. If you always carry hope, you will survive. I like this interpretation, it creates a positive note in one very depressing book.
The Road also introduced some vocabulary unfamiliar to me. McCarthy must be a walking dictionary. Here are a few examples:
Gryke (p.11) - a deep cleft in a bare limestone rock surface.
Gambreled (p.17) - A grambrel is a two-sided roof, usually symmetric, with two slopes on each side.
Laved (p.38) - to wash or flow against.
Soffits (p.106) - the exposed undersides of any overhead component of a building.
Gelid (p.136) - Very cold; icy.
Bivouack[ed] (p. 168) - temporary encampment under little or no shelter


JT said...

That is his style--as little punctuation as possible. In fact, that is his content style as well, as little amount of detail as possible.

I highly recommend 'Blood Meridian.' I think it is one of the greatest American works.

Joy said...

I'm so glad you ended up liking this. :) I thought about it for days afterwards.

Teddy Rose said...

I really liked this one as well! Like others have said, it stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

Madeleine said...

I read THE ROAD before it was a Oprah selection. At first i thought I would put this book aside (to depressing)however I ended up liking it a lot. With our world in the state it is the subject is appropriate.
It isn't a read for everyone, by far. For me it is a story that still stays with me.

Anonymous said...

This book stayed with me for WEEKS - maybe even months. I just recommended it to my sister and described it as, "Depressing, but uplifting." Hahaha. I think you did a better job summarizing it! : )

I'm enjoying your blog - I just found it through BlogHer. I've already written "The Book Thief" on my long list of books to read.


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