The Road aka The Greatest Book In Existence

The Road

I think anyone that knows me knows about my obsession with Cormac McCarthy XD  It started 5 years ago when a fanfic friend of mine (that is an amazing writer) recommended, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and October Light by John Gardner.  It’s hard to put into words the feeling that I got when I first read The Road.  It was one of the most magical and inspirational events of my adult life.  It completely changed the way I thought about writing.  If I was limited to one book for the rest of my life, I would pick this one.  I just finished my 4th read-through of it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I’ll preface this review by saying that McCarthy writes poetic prose, and if you aren’t into it, you might not like it.  I’ve read several of his books, and his style is characterized by long passages of poetic prose interspersed with very sparse prose.  The Road is different than the others because instead of going into these long passages of poetic prose, he interweaves it through the fabric of the novel.  I think that is part of what makes it more accessible than his other works.  I just looked on Amazon, and they actually posted the whole thing (with the exception of the final few pages) as an excerpt.  If you click on the picture to look inside you can read the whole thing for free.  I’m a firm believer in supporting artists, so if you like the book I would buy it anyway to support McCarthy.  This book was made into a movie, which was awesome, but the book is so much better.

Summary: Amidst the bleak and dreary setting of a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son are struggling to survive.  Starvation is rampant and rules the land while cannibals lurk around every corner.  At the forefront of this story is the love between a father and son as they struggle to survive, heading south on “the road,” in search of food and a better life.

Pros: The prose is lyrical and fitting of the barren landscape of the novel.  It’s a compelling story, and the first time I read it, I couldn’t get through it fast enough.  The love that the father has for his son is so much more powerful than the grief he faces on a daily basis.  Their devotion is endearing and will tug at your heartstrings.  The father is forced to make some difficult decisions, but he’s always trying to do what is best for his son.  They never succumb to the evil that has consumed humanity because they carry the fire, which is a theme mentioned several times in the book.   Despite everything that they go through, they never give up hope, a testament to the resilience of mankind.

Cons: For me there aren’t any cons.  But for some people I think they might be a bit turned off by McCarthy’s stylized dialogue.  He gets rid of all the “he said,” “she said,” and associated innuendo.  The dialogue is written like this. . .

I like ice cream

I like ice cream too

Why don’t we get some ice cream

Sure, I’m feeling really hungry

It can get confusing in long passages because you don’t know who’s saying what.  There are never more than two participants in the dialogue, but even still, it can be a bit difficult to read and understand.  But it fits the bleak atmosphere of the story, and it contributes to his writing style.  It’s also filled with angst.  My sister could not get past the first few pages because it was too depressing.  Also, this could be considered a pro or con depending on your tastes, but there are some very disturbing elements of horror in here.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to everyone because it’s such a beautiful yet haunting story.

I’ll review other books as I read them.  Probably one a month.  I read slowly so I can absorb the prose and reflect upon the story as I go.

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5 thoughts on “The Road aka The Greatest Book In Existence

  1. I love your blog.

    You know, there’s an analogy to music that’s going to help me here. I grew up on Rock in the 60’s with no exposure to classical music or opera. I played drums and loved some of the melodic tunes of Country Joe and the Fish. Later I got religion (literally) and went to an academy and sang in a choir and took voice lessons. Later I learned how to sing decent tenor in an operatic style, Bel Canto. I finally went back decades later and listen to those old songs I loved from Country Joe. But now, with all this musical exposure and training, I could hear that Joe sang flat. Unbelievably flat. Unimaginably flat! And all his magic was gone for me forever. A significant loss.

    There are, to a simple guy like me, two types of fiction. Popular and literary. That’s got to be an oversimplification, but hey. I read “The Crossing” a decade ago and felt so bad at the end. I was moved. I was touched and disturbed. I could even appreciate the poetic quality of his prose to some degree, but not the way I appreciate Bob Dylan in “Blond on Blond,” for example. And here’s the thing. I don’t want to become capable of fully appreciating the literary fiction writers like McCarthy because it will make the popular writers sound flat and tone deaf to me, I’m afraid.

    I know the person playing first violin in a big orchestra believes that classic music is the real thing and popular music is inferior, less important, less enjoyable, whatever. And the literary writers, no doubt, feel similarly, and probably for concrete reasons that could be documented in a laboratory.

    But I want to reach as many average readers a possible with my writing. Not primarily for money, though I loath those who preach that writers and artists should not be paid handsomely for their work. I want to reach average readers in hoards because I want to make as big and positive a difference in the world as someone with my level of talent possibly can. You know, as a goal, not to be grandiose about saving the world. To hold that goal in my heart, I’ve got to love popular fiction. To do that, I can’t be teaching my neurons to fully appreciate writers like McCarthy. If I expose myself to his type of writing, I’m pretty sure it will be the only prose I’m ever going to want to read or write again.

    As long as I consider what I’m doing my highest calling, I’m happy. Once it feels like I’m settling, I’ll be miserable. That’s a character flaw, but it’s me.

    And another relevant point is that I don’t think I have the gift with words that it would take to be a decent literary fiction writer.

    I hope I’ve said this in a way that makes sense. I’ve got a hecque of a lot to learn, so maybe I’m way off base here. Forgive me if I am. I keep an open mind, so there’s always hope for my improvement.

    • Thank you so much for the insightful post! I know what you mean. When I started writing five years ago I fell in love with a few stories. Then I reread them recently and the magic was gone. It’s kind of like finding out Santa Claus is real. Christmas is still fun, but the magic is gone.

      After reading so much of McCarthy it makes it harder to enjoy books with simple prose. They are still enjoyable, but I know that the prose is plain. The Crossing was a really angsty read 😦 I don’t know if I can read it again. The part about the wolf was so sad ;___; And it gets worse from there XD It’s part of a trilogy I think? I know there are more components to the story. I read about them on Wikipedia and decided not to read anymore because it was too depressing.

      Yes, I think writing beautiful prose makes one a much less commercially viable author. I come from a fanfiction background. There were 5 stories in my fandom that I really loved. Two of them were crazy popular, the other 3 were hardly popular at all. These writers were much better than me, but my stories were more popular. And it really surprised me at first. The 2 popular stories had beautiful prose, but they capitalized on the popular trend of time travel. The 3 unpopular stories were brilliant, but they were very unique in either content and/or prose. That’s when I kind of realized that writing too good makes you a less popular author. And for me I know that as I continue to improve I will become less commercially viable. I guess that’s okay for me, but I definitely have mixed feelings about it.

      I think it’s an awesome goal to want to reach as many people as you can with your writing. Some of my favorite stories, like Orwell’s 1984, had plain prose (at least that’s what I remember) but the story was so powerful. I still think of the morals it taught me even today. Especially the one about all humans being susceptible to break. Most people read for the story or characters, not the prose.

      Yeah, I’ve been seriously considering where I want to go with my writing. My short stories are all in the literature genre. I was planning to write a fantasy novel, but I’m worried my prose will make it unaccessible for most fantasy readers. Atwood and McCarthy have both written sci-fi but that was later in their careers. The fanfiction I wrote was fantasy because it came from the world of Final Fantasy VII, but I removed many of the fantasy elements in my writing, like the magic XD

      I totally agree with everything you said 🙂 You made some great points. You definitely sound very intelligent. I love having discussions like this. You gave me a lot to think about ^^ Thank you for the comment about my blog. You’re too kind :$

  2. I have this book, but haven’t read it yet. You’ve completely sold me on it; it’s next in my queue. I love poetic prose and have a penchant for dark. I’m rereading (for the third time!) my favorite series, the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. I guess the genre would be classified as dark, urban fantasy. She describes it as “a romance, and a fantasy, and a mystery and even part thriller.” I love re-reading my favorite books, slowly, to appreciate the awesome writing and the nuances I didn’t catch the first time around. I like that K.M. Moning started out writing successful historical romance novels, then took a risk and switched up genres. I say follow your heart and don’t get too tripped up on what other people will like.

  3. Thanks for the book recommendation 😀 I’ll check her out! I’m trying to read more fantasy novels since that is the genre I want to write a novel in. Most of the books I’ve been reading are literature. Good books only get better the more you read 😀 Yeah, I like dark stories too, lol. Dark and filled with angst XD

  4. Pingback: Bookshelf Tag | The Paper Butterfly

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