Friday, March 23, 2007

The Road - Amy's Review

Original review posted here.

Cormac McCarthy
Library Book
241 pgs

Reason for Reading: I read this for the NYT Notable Books Challenge.

***Spoilers Below***

I have never read anything by Cormac McCarthy and I really didn't know what to expect. What really hooked me into putting this book on my list for this challenge was the fact that the setting is post-apocalyptic. Other than that, I don't know much about the author or any of his other books.

I knew going into this book that the subject matter would be grim but McCarthy does an excellent job of using few words to pack a wallop. I actually felt the hopelessness of the man and the boy as they go through the ravaged and desolate countryside. I was horrified at the thought of people being held captive for food and the impossible situation of having to run to save yourself and being unable to help them at all. This is the stuff nightmares are made of and at this point in the book I wasn't sure I would be able to finish.

Then they find a hidden shelter and they have a reprieve from sleeping in the rain, being half-starved, cold, and filthy. I was so delighted to see them finally have some small comforts and I could almost feel how wonderful a bath and clean clothes would feel after weeks without and how wonderful such feasts of the stores that they discover would be, and oh! to sleep on a cot instead of the cold ground. At this point, I couldn't put the book down.

All the way through the book I was going back and forth.

In the end, I have to say that I really liked this book. The fact that it took me to both extremes is, I suppose, a testament to the author's skill.

One thing that I didn't like is the lack of punctuation. I don't like reading conversations without quotation marks. I find it distracting and this is the second book that I have read recently that has done this. I am unsure if this a some sort of fad or a writing style that I am unfamiliar with. If anyone wants to clue me in on this, I would appreciate it. I would hate to remain ignorant forever. (4/5)


kookiejar said...

I don't know why other authors decide to forgo punctuation, especially quotation marks, but I don't believe that McCarthy has done this in his other novels, so I think this was a device to stress the minimalistic environment that the man and the boy were living in.

But, here's the $24,000 Question, Amy.


Where the people on the beach there to save the boy, or to capture the boy?

3M said...

I don't think McCarthy uses quotation marks in his other books, either. That was one reason why I wanted to listen to it on audio. After I listened to the audio, I was afraid I missed some things, so I want to go back and read the print version!

I really love this book, but I hate this particular writing convention. Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong (I hate that book!) also does not use quotation marks. I find it rather pretentious.

Pour of Tor said...

I think it is possible that the lack of quotation marks was meant to blur the line between speakers, in much the same way that the lack of names and abundance of unclear pronoun references did (since virtually every character in the book is male, "he" becomes AWFULLY ambiguous, to interesting effects). Several times I had to go back to the beginning of long dialogues and "count off" who was speaking in alternate lines in order to figure out what was going on. To me this gave the book a somewhat dreamlike character...

Speaking of which [SPOILERS ARE NIGH], the more I think about this book (and thanks to our discussion on this blog, I have been thinking about it a great deal since I returned it to the library), the more convinced I become that the ending is a "hopeful" story told by the father... So in other words, (in my opinion) the people on the beach are "saviors," but they are also hypothetical/fictional.

I would add this [SPOILERISH] question to kookiejar's: if following "the Road" is so all important to his father (because it is symbolic, because it is a spiritual metaphor, because it is the key to survival, because it is what moves the novel forward - "The Road" IS the novel...), what does it mean that when the boy is "saved," he turns back? Not only does he stop following the road, he actually retraces/undoes their progress.

I would love to hear what you think, Amy! This book has really been occupying my thoughts ever since I finished it. It just keeps getting richer....

kookiejar said...

Does the boy retrace the path of his father as much as he starts down his own road with new people (no matter the outcome of that journey)?

Pour of Tor said...

[Pretty much unadulterated SPOILERING in the comment that follows.]

That's a really interesting point, kookiejar, and it makes me wish I had the book in front of me so I could check on what I am about to say in response. :)

Metaphorically, I think it is perfectly possible to see this as another branch in the Road they have been following all along (although I would argue that it is presented metaphorically more as "the end of the road" they have been striving for - stability, community, safety).

More literally, if I remember correctly, the man who takes in the boy at the end of the novel says that there was some disagreement (in his implied community) about whether someone should be sent to follow them. If they were being followed (I assume the community is that of the fictional/real "boy" they saw in the ruins of a town earlier in the book), then going back to rejoin that community would involve retracing their progress.

Amy said...

Hi guys!
I avoided the reviews because I didn't want to accidently read any spoilers. After I wrote mine I went and read the others and the comments.


I saw the people at the end of the book as saving the boy. The thought truly never crossed my mind that they could be doing otherwise.
I read Michelle's(Kookie)thoughts asking why would they take on another mouth to feed.

To me, they had already "counted the cost on this."

The man in the parka says "There was some discussion whether to come after you at all" and since he came it was decided that they would help him.

I also did not look at the Road as a totally spiritual metaphor as much as a human metaphor. (This is a switch because I usually see spiritual metaphors that aren't there..LOL)

The thought came to me several times that the father's hope was trying to find where humanity dwelt. All around them were savages.

The boy and the man retained their humanity(didn't eat flesh etc.)and "carried the fire." I wondered if that meant what it was to be human vs. savage and hoping there were others like them. Part of what it means to be human vs. savage is that we help others even when it costs us. The boy sacrificed for Ely and wanted to sacrifice for the thief and then the father tells him that the fire was always inside him. I wondered if he meant that the boy retained his humanity even when the father had begun to lose his.

My thoughts are probably way "out there" but that is what came to me as I read.

kookiejar said...


No, I think you and Ariel might be spot on, Amy. If the Road represents man's most primal, vicious state (alone, wandering) than the 'end of the road' is the salvation in the community of man.

Therefore, the people (although cryptically vague in their intentions in my mind) are offering the boy a chance to finish the journey his father started. The journey to a renewed society.

By George, I think I finally get it. Maybe I just really wanted to see that kid get eaten. People often see what they want to see, and that's probably what happened to me.

What a fantastic book. This is sure to spark more and more conversation as the rest of the members read it, don'cha think?

Amy said...

Not *still* reading...just getting back to it. :P~ and then looking for someone to talk to about it.

I can't wait to hear the other members perspectives too. It really was an amazing book.

3M said...

pour of tor,

Did you see my theory about the speaker being the mother at the top of p. 74? Or at least a conversation between the father and mother. I'm not convinced it's the mother by any means, but thought it might be possible.

I agree with Amy. Usually I see "spiritual" metaphors as well, but in this case I thought it was just a search for the "good guys". Human vs. savage was an excellent way to put it!

Pour of Tor said...

3M - Thanks for reminding me of that previous post; I had meant to respond to it earlier and I just went back and did so!

Ms. Jaroch said...

Wow, kookiejar, I am blown away by your comment about humankind's natural state (the road) and renewed state (community). That opened up the ending for me, thematically. Thanks!

kookiejar said...

Ms Jaroch, I was just combining the ideas that Amy and Ariel had put forth, but I think as a group we are close to the truth about this book. Thanks for continuing to stop by.

Wendy said...

I agree with Amy and Ariel on this one - the whole idea of remaining human (not savage) and seeking community put the whole thing together for me. I was thinking, as I was reading, that the boy is representative of what it means to remain human despite horrible situations. He (the boy) always has the fire within him...which I take to mean humanity. He is sensitive and loving and keeps his innocence and his desire to help others in the face of everything bad - the dad can only see one thing which is saving his son at all costs, and in doing so he turns his back on others who need his help.