The Road

What if you lived your life for just one person? And that person lived just for you, so you were ‘each other’s world entire’? I think there’s a romantic sense of that feeling, of being consumed by a new love affair, a new baby, a feeling that without that person, life would not be worth living. But we all have other reasons to live, whether we acknowledge them or not. There are family, friends, helpful strangers, animals, nature, books, work, music, whatever it is that gets you through. But what if you didn’t? No family, no friends, no helpful strangers, no faith in God, not enough food, no clean water, no trees, no animals, no blue sky? What if all you had was one other person, and a long, difficult journey, in a world where snow comes down gray, where every living thing, save a few wandering humans, has been killed, either by a nuclear bomb, or by the ferocious first years following the explosions? Would you want to travel that road?

That is the road on which the unnamed father and son must travel in The Road, a post-apolyptic novel that is so bleak, so sad, that there were pages when I had to close the book and struggle not to cry. But it’s so well written, I found myself getting past the nausea brought on by some of the images, and coming back to the story.

The man and the boy are trying to stay alive. The man wants to get them to the warmer weather at the coast, and further south, so that they won’t freeze to death come winter, which seems to come earlier every year. They have to travel the roads with care, always in the desperate search for food, trying to stave off starvation, always on the lookout for ‘bad guys’, marauders who resort to cannibalism and slavery in order to stay alive.

In the evening they tramped out across a field trying to find a place where their fire would not be seen. Dragging the cart behind them over the ground. So little of promise in that country. Tomorrow they would find something to eat. Night overtook them on a muddy road. They crossed into a field and plodded on toward a distant stand of trees skylighted stark and black against the last of the visible world. By the time they got there it was dark of night. He got a fire going. The wood was damp but he shaved the dead bark off with his knife and he stacked brush and sticks all about to dry in the heat. Then he spread the sheet of plastic on the ground and got the coats and blankets from the cart and he took off their damp and muddy shoes and they sat there in silence with their hands outheld to the flames. He tried to think of something to say but he could not. He’s had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom short of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.

The man promised the boy that they are the ‘good guys’, that they carry the fire with them; that they will not eat other people, even if it means their own death. He tries to maintain their own humanity, and for the father, that is as much humanity as he has left. Having the son as his ‘world entire’ means that nothing else matters. Just keeping his son alive. Not others who they meet on the road, some who desperately need help. Simply put, if the man and the boy stop to help, if they share their food and energy, they will die. That’s all.

The dialog is sparse, and reveals the honesty and love between the father and son…and at times, it is the dialog that is the most brutal and honest.

It was harder going even than he would have guessed. In an hour they’d made perhaps a mile. He stopped and looked back at the boy. The boy stopped and waited.
You think we’re going to die, dont you?
I dont know.
We’re not going to die.
But you dont believe me.
I dont know.
Why do you think we’re going to die?
I dont know.
Stop saying I dont know.
Why do you think we’re going to die?
We dont have anything to eat.
We’ll find something.
How long do you think people can go without food?
I dont know.
But how long do you think?
Maybe a few days.
And then what? You fall over dead?
Well you dont. It takes a long time. We have water. That’s the most important thing. You dont last very long without water.
But you dont believe me.
I dont know.
He studied him. Standing there with his hands in the pockets of his outsized pinstriped suitcoat.
Do you think I lie to you?
But you think I might lie to you about dying.
Okay, I might. But we’re not dying.

Keeping his emaciated son alive is all that the man has left. The goal, and the love for his son, his need to protect his son against all threats, his fear that someday, he will have to kill his son, in order to protect him from a fate worse than death. Already, every night as he tries to sleep, hungry, cold, and scared, he envies the dead. The boy, born into the post nuclear world, craves a bit more humanity than this bleak survival. A bit more assurance that their struggle hasn’t turned them into ‘the bad guys’.

I found this story to be harrowing, devastating, and still, not without its own beauty, and even a tiny glimmer of hope. Cormac McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for The Road, and I read it as part of my award winners book challenge.

UPDATE: I just read on Wikipedia that there’s talk of a movie…(huge plot spoilers in the Wiki article, so be warned)…some of the scenes were so horrific, I don’t know that I could stomach a film version. I think I’ll pass, no matter how good the book was.

15 thoughts on “The Road

    That was the best written book review to date!

    Even though it sounds incredibly sad and hard to read at times, it made me want to read it.

  2. I actually read this just a few weeks ago. I finished it one day. It was terribly depressing but so compelling I couldn’t put it down. And it made me think. A lot! I’m going to reference your post on my blog entry because your review was so eloquent.

  3. Wow. Gerat review and what a book. I don’t know if I’ll read anything that emotionally charged, but it does sound interesting– and maybe life affirming?

  4. Your enthusiasm for this book just jumps out of this review! I wasn’t as crazy about it, as you know, but I definitely want to read it again.

  5. When I heard about this book, I really wanted to read it — not knowing that you had already purchased it. 🙂 After your great review, I’m going to put down the Mayflower adventure and venture down The Road.

  6. What a wonderful, wonderful review, J! I had goosebumps as I read your post. This certainly sounds like a book I would like to read at some point. I love reading about human beings making it even in the most adverse circumstances.

  7. This is just a wonderful review – I really enjoyed reading it and can see that you spent a lot of time thinking about the book. You also mirrored many of my own thoughts of The Road – a piece of fiction that will stay with me for a long long time.

  8. And I see you’re reading Gilead – I read this earlier in the summer and it quite literally blew me away. I’m very interested to see what you have to say.

  9. Pingback: Py Korry » Blog Archive » The Road of Our Future?

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