As you may have seen a few weeks ago, I’ve begun to tackle my summer reading list. First item up? Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel, The Road.
If you’re not familiar with this novel, the Goodreads teaser is quite accurate:
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 has received countless accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize, but I feel I can only give it three out of five stars.
First and foremost, I should note that this is a pretty good book. McCarthy’s prose is beautiful, his descriptions sublime. The book is both a fictitious narrative and a larger metaphor. It’s a story about reliance and unconditional, visceral love.
My issue? There wasn’t enough momentum in the book, either within the narrative, or within the back-story. The Man, as our protagonist is called, teases out the apocalypse and gives great attention to establishing “good guys” and “bad guys” without defining or explaining the significance of either. The only moments of true momentum and value in this book are the nauseating ones: when we discover that people are literally eating one another, and when we learn that The Man’s son has instructions to shoot himself if accosted.
I didn’t feel there was any clear motivation for The Man or The Boy in this book. They’re traveling South, and traveling toward the coast, but we don’t know why. The narrative is framed ambiguously — there is no clear plot. The climax occurs in the last page and a half of the book when The Man finally dies. Granted, the ambiguity and lack of momentum and strange relationship between father and son are part of the larger metaphors that this book is presenting. These, added to McCarthy’s prose, make The Road an undeniably deserving recipient of the Pulitzer, but unfortunately, inhibit the ability of a casual reader to truly enjoy the book and appreciate the story.