Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Belated Book Review: The Road

I have never been one to take suggestions from Oprah. Well, except for that whole Bob Greene Best Life thing leading up our wedding. A well read writer friend at work suggested Cormac McCarthy's 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, many months back, and I've just recently consumed it during my latest reading binge where I'm digging into anything and everything. I am so ready for winter. Read the review after the jump.

The Road is unlike any other literary experience I've had thus far. Reading has been exceedingly more pleasurable since I've reached beyond pre-1960's texts. It's been filthy and funny (anything Augusten Burroughs), charming and telling (Nick Hornby's How to Be Good), tedious and unsatisfying (The Historian) and surprisingly moving and unique (Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy).

But never have I read a piece so devastating and beyond my own imagination as The Road.

The Road is the story of a man and his young son as they travel through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with the aim to simply survive from one moment to the next as they make their way southward through mountains towards the coast. A deceivingly simple construct slowly reveals both acts of utter horror and unconditional love through concisely descriptive and always elegant fragments that at times weave from narrator to the man's thoughts as well as his memories before the catastrophe that burned his world. The result is heart wrenching intimacy fueled by a level of desperation straight out of the Paleolithic - previously unseen, faraway and incomprehensible.

Like a good piece of art, The Road only exposes details that are absolutely needed to compel us to follow as the characters trudge through a barren land destroyed by man. It is all the boy knows and yet often he questions his father about the possibility that there may still be birds or animals somewhere out there in the charred forests though he's never seen evidence of that in his lifetime. Facing starvation, winter and grave threats from other transients and vicious marauders, the father and son hover between maintaining their good guy status and doing what is necessary to survive. At times it seems they are dead already, but McCarthy manages to blend tragedy with small victories and makes heroes of this broken family without resorting to melodrama and never fails to recognize the love that has made each breath possible. It is a tale of the struggle to survive after the loss of nearly everything and the power of illogical hope.