The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The RoadInformation

Goodreads: The Road
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 26, 2006

Summary

Years ago, the world burnt. Now all is ash. In the desolation, a father and his son walk towards the south and the coast, in search of hope.

Review

The Road was published in 2006, two years before The Hunger Games started a boom in the publication of dystopian/postapocalyptic fiction, yet even taking into consideration that McCarthy wrote the book before the fad, The Road doesn’t offer much original to the genre. (In fact, the feel of the book has a lot in common with Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague,” which was published in 1912.) It’s a dystopian focused heavily on world-building, on the day-to-day experiences of a boy and his father as they wander about the roads, looking at a burnt out world. There isn’t much in the way of an overarching plot. We’re talking about atmosphere here–and too many dystopians have been written, both before and after The Hunger Games, for atmosphere to be particularly interesting.

So for much of the book I was thinking, “I get it. They’re walking around, looking for abandoned canned food no one else has looted, pushing their lives in a shopping cart and trying to avoid other people on the road because you never know who’s going to shoot you.” And I have read so many books like this. Once in a while, the boy and the father ponder their fate or the fate of humanity. The real problem is: I have read books that have a very similar world-building (Angelfall by Susan Ee comes to mind), but which also have a plot. So The Road didn’t impress me.

I know the book has some status as school required reading, so it’s hard to dismiss it entirely. There are some things about it that are philosophically interesting, if one is willing to dig about for them. The relationship between the boy and his father is particularly worth a second look for anyone reading this academically. And it asks some questions that are basically dystopian/postapocalyptic staples: What does it mean to be human? What is it ethical to do in the pursuit of survival? Is there really a clear line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys?” But, since these are questions practically inherent to the genre, I’m not sure I can say there’s anything specially compelling about the way they’re raised in The Road, if it’s worth reading this book over other books from the genre.

The Road is solid, but I’ve seen so much that’s similar that I simply can’t be excited about it. It just seems so standard, except with a particularly literary fiction type of style (mixing up the chronology, not clearly indicating who’s speaking, etc.), and the style simply doesn’t compensate for the lack of original thought or content.

3 stars Briana

17 thoughts on “The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Endlessly Reading says:

    Hmm, that’s pretty unfortunate that you didn’t really find anything original in this dystope. I actually haven’t gotten to reading this yet but would it really be worth it? Is there anything else that happens in the books besides them look for survival in a desolate world, wandering the streets for food? It just seems like it could be a bore by page 5.

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    • Briana says:

      Plot-wise, it primarily is just the characters walking and looking for ways to survive. I think it would just depend how interested you were in its philosophy. I definitely thought there were interesting elements, but I also think I might have been more receptive to them if I haven’t already read so many dystopian novels.

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    • Briana says:

      A real life acquaintance I have went on a five minute rant about how pretentious the writing is, so you’re not alone! I was on the fence about the prose, but that was when I assumed the lack of punctuation and such was supposed to convey something about the dystopian world. The someone told me all McCarthy’s books are written this way and he just doesn’t like punctuation because it breaks up the flow of the text or something. Which kind of does sound pretentious. :/

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jamie Wu says:

        Haha. I won’t say I felt that it’s pretentious, I just feel that there’s an added layer for me to wade through to understand the story. I’m not against flowery prose, but McCarthy’s is just a little too much for me.

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  2. Ali (@thebandarblog) says:

    Cormac McCarthy is not for everyone, that’s for sure. I really enjoyed The Road (despite how stinking DEPRESSING it is), but I don’t think I could read his others. Meanwhile my husband has read all of his and loves them – but he’s a language person and I’m a story person. So I think that makes a difference!

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    • Briana says:

      I thought the language and prose was interesting until someone told me McCarthy writes all his books without punctuation because he doesn’t believe in slowing the reader down with it or something. I had originally thought he was making some statement about the dsystopian world, but if he writes all his books like that, I actually find that odd.

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  3. poseidons99 says:

    Maybe it helped that read this book in audio format as I couldn’t find much to complain about, and I haven’t read neither the mentioned Angelfall or Hunger Games

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    • Briana says:

      I definitely think I would have been more into it if I hadn’t just read so many other dystopian novels! I can kind of appreciate what the book is trying to do and convey, but it just didn’t feel new to me.

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  4. Ellen @ Quest Reviews says:

    I haven’t read this book, but I did see the movie. To this day, it stands as the only film that ever made me heave like I was going to throw up. If the book is anything like the movie, Cormac’s vision is that humanity, faced with widespread disaster, largely turns its back on each other and commits atrocities in the name of “survival.” It’s a bleak picture.

    But I think there’s a reason for this dystopian trend. We’re living in an age where collapse is on the horizon. People are asking questions about how humankind will react when our resources, health, and stability disintegrate. Will hold on to some of our progress? Or will we be thrown into another Dark Ages?

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    • Briana says:

      I can’t entirely imagine what a movie based on this book would be like, People just walking and raiding homes for leftover canned food? Fun. I guess there could be flashbacks to life before.

      After reading this, I was pondering why bands of people in dystopians are always the bad guys. The good people are always alone because they don’t know whom to trust. Anyone in a group is a crazy cannibalistic gang that will either rape you or eat you. But why? I get you don’t necessarily want to trust strangers two years into a dystopian world because some people really are violent and crazy, but why wouldn’t you have a band of people you knew and trusted in the beginning or something? And I also kind of find it hard to believe the world would go all Lord of the Flies. I would think someone would be trying to organize something.

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  5. kimmiegg says:

    Dystopic books are becoming harder and harder to read as none seem to retain that originality because they are so widespread. If an author is able to successfully execute another dystopic novel, I will be very impressed.

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    • Briana says:

      Yes! I actually thought this one was published fairly “late” in the trend and wondered if it get to ok from the publishing industry because it’s by McCarthy and he has some clout. Which isn’t to say it has no merits at all. But it just is really hard to be original in the genre, especially if you’re relying primarily on worldbuliding and not on something like having a wildly unique plot.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Emily | RoseRead says:

    I agree all the way. I didn’t enjoy the book, but I recognize that it has some merit. To me, it was just exhausting to read, as I’m sure was the point, because of its depressing, heavy tone. I felt weighed down reading it. Which wouldn’t have been as bad had the plot been more compelling/original, as you said. Nice review!

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    • Briana says:

      Yeah, I guess it was going for a “We just keep walking down the road because there is no end goal, nothing to achieve in this sad, burnt out world” tone. Which is an aesthetic, but not exactly a cheerful one. And then that tone/worldbuilding seemed to be the primary point, which makes it hard for the book to be unique. I think dystopians stand out on plot more than on worldbuilding now that so many have been published. I’ve read a lot of books about people foraging through abandoned homes for leftover canned goods,so this version of that did nothing for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. mybookcushion says:

    The book sounds interesting. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it that much. I think it’s one disadvantage ( one way or another) for someone who reads a lot of books. Standard will be raised a notch whenever you read an awesome book, and it’s really hard to appreciate other stories with the same plot.

    It was interesting to know that it already made it to the big screen. I’ll go check it in a while.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Definitely! Sometimes I read books and think I would have really liked them, if I’d only read them 10 years ago or something, and hadn’t already read so many books that were similar.

      Like

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