#31 – The Road

July 18, 2007

if it’s not love then it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us togetherI try pretty hard to not be an elitist about reading, like I am too often about music and film. I’ll judge you for liking Nickelback or Hostel, but even if you’re reading James Patterson or The Secret or something, you’ve got my support – as long as you’re reading something, I figure you’re already doing better than a disturbingly large portion of the population. However, I tried reading one of the Tom Clancy’s Op-Center books in an airport one time, and it made me physically ill with its sheer uselessness. So I guess I’ve settled on a kind of entry-level elitism: I tolerate really populist works, but generally stay the hell away from them unless otherwise induced to read. As a result, I think that Oprah’s Book Club is a really good program for getting books into the hands of people who ordinarily might not be reading anything, but I hadn’t read any of her picks myself until hearing really great things about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. And it was so good that I’m having to rethink my personal aversion to Oprah’s sticker.

The Road is an unrelentingly grim novel, set in a post-apocalyptic America. It’s about an unnamed man and his son, travelling south on a barren road, on what might as well be a cross-country death march. This is extremely spartan writing; McCarthy doesn’t bother with unnecessary descriptions or dialogue or even punctuation. In lives as nasty, brutish and short as the ones the people in The Road lead, these things feel like luxuries the reader can’t afford. This is seriously dark stuff, and I don’t know what I was expecting from an Oprah book, but it wasn’t this. The deceptively simple text has vast layers, and it’s incredibly effective at drawing a reader in.

What distinguishes this book from any other survivor stories is the presence of the man’s young son on the road with him. Born after the unspecified cataclysm which destroyed the United States, life as a survivor is all he’s even known, and his unique perspective and relationship with his father are at the heart of The Road. He acts as the only moral compass in an otherwise hopeless world, trying to guide his father as morality gives way to necessity. It’s interesting to examine the father’s recurring statement to the boy that “they’re the bad guys, and we’re the good guys, and we always will be” on their respective ethical scales, as their circumstances change. But maybe I’m getting a bit too academic with this.

Bottom line, The Road is a compelling and pretty depressing book, and well worth a read. It made me kind of want to read some more Oprah books, and definitely want to read some more Cormac McCarthy books. I was actually planning on reading No Country For Old Men next, but after seeing the incredible trailer for the Coen Brothers’ upcoming adaptation, I decided I’m willing to wait for the movie, to let them tell me the story first. Just one of the perks of only being an entry-level literary elitist, I guess.



  1. Thanks for the recommendation. Post-apocalyptic stories are a fascination for me, so I headed straight to the bookstore after hearing your thoughts about this one. Have you read A Canticle for Leibowitz?

  2. Hope you like it, Gerry, it was definitely an interesting read. I’ve never heard of A Canticle for Leibowitz, but it looks quite good; I’ll add it to the list. Thanks for the tip.

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