Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Closing Thoughts: The Road

# of pages: 287
Pages read so far: 1,543

The lender of Cormac McCarthy's The Road told me it was supposed to be one of the most depressing books ever written. Through the first half of the book, I agreed. At times, it was so depressing that my mind started to reject it as ridiculous (much like someone who meet Pollyanna in real life would wonder whether the girl was for real or not). Everything that happened in the story was just sad. Not a make-you-cry sort of sad, but more of a "dang. That really sucks" sort of sad. The novel is incredibly dreary; a man and his son (around eight years old) are traveling on foot together down a road (used to be an interstate highway) in a world in which everything is dead. (You never find out what happened. Probably Global Warming) No plants, no animals, and almost no people. Cities are completely empty, rotting corpses everywhere. A stranger you meet on the road may very well want to kill you for your belongings and the meat on your bones. The man and the boy (you never get their names) journey ever southward, trying to survive a cold winter on a planet that now bares a permanent layer of ash.

Really, there's not a lot of potential for happy thoughts in this sort of story.

However, as I got into it further, I realized that it wasn't depressing, not really. Depressing literature leaves me feeling like crap when I read it. The Road didn't. I won't say it was uplifting by any stretch of the imagination, but it was definitely engaging. The language was simple; the majority of the book was structured like the post I wrote yesterday. Short paragraphs, no chapters, no apostrophes or quotation marks, few descriptive words. Very plain. Very little life. No real structure to the story. Like the man and the boy, it just sort of rambles along toward its end. And while it does have an ending, this story is not about the end. It's not really about the mystery of the beginning, either. It's about the journey and the relationship between the father and the son. The language is accessible and readable. McCarthy doesn't waste words. He doesn't try to creep you out with any of the excessively gory details of the world around the travelers. Rather, he lets the hopelessness of the situation speak for itself. And it's a very engaging read for that.

It's very interesting to read the snippets of reviews inside the cover of the book. Unanimous acclaim based on incredibly diverse takes on the narrative. One reviewer finds it ultimately hopeful. One finds it terrifying and depressing. One calls is personal while another lauds its alienation. Yet another comments on its portrayal of "the miracle of goodness." Me? I saw very little miracle of goodness. Also very little to make me hopeful afterward. It didn't depress me, though. I liked these characters. I related to them both. I found myself appreciating a story well-told more than worrying about whether it should be depressing me or inspiring me.

I'd recommend reading this book in as few sittings as possible. I read it in about two days, and I think I would have had trouble getting into it if I kept checking out and back in. There's some disturbing imagery as well. (How many of these books on my list are going to involve cutting up babies??) However, it was nice to read something that wasn't graphic or gratuitous in language, gore, or sex. (Not that sex would have fit in this story anywhere)

So there you have it. I liked the book. I dunno that it was brilliant of a masterpiece, but it did win a Pulitzer so most likely it is ;-) What it is for certain is a well-told story that causes you to pause, think, and reflect as you read it. If you're not afraid to injest some troubling scenes and despairing narrative, this is a good, quick read to pick up.

Oh, and here's the trailer for the movie.

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