Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Roni and I have recently finished Cormac McCarthy’s stunning novel, The Roadand I am struggling with how to describe this book.  It is Faulknerian in many ways (the tone, the dialogue, the stream-of-consciousness, the bleak, brutal surroundings) and I was not surprised to find that McCarthy’s first literary agent was Faulkner’s as well.  Yet it is also a very distinct work that has come from a very distinct pen.  McCarthy won the Pulitzer prize for The Road, and it is easy to see why.

The story, at first glance, is simple enough:  a man and his son trying to survive (mainly along the road) in a mysteriously apocalyptic landscape.  I say “mysteriously” because we are never told what happened, though the prevailing view among readers seems to be that a massive ecological crisis has occured.  I do agree with that view, though some kind of nuclear holocaust can’t be ruled out either.  Regardless, most people are dead, and most animals as well.  The food supply is gone, and those humans who remain have either embraced a despairing life of animalistic cruelty (i.e., cannabalism) or have taken a higher road and are simply seeking to survive.  The man mentions “communes” once or twice, so you gather that there are small pockets of people somewhere out there trying to rebuild some rudimentary form of society.

But the book is much more than it appears at first glance.  It is a deeply and profoundly spiritual book.  I was not surprised to read a recent interview with the director of the movie version in Christianity Todaysaying that McCarthy insisted to him that the references to God and the spiritual impulse of the book not be diminished in the film.  I daresay that any fair-minded reader will agree that such an omission would do serious harm to the fabric of the story.

God is “in the air” of The Road:  from the boy’s simple but resolute faith, to the man’s occasional Job-like cries of despair, to the continuous references to carrying “the fire” (a theme McCarthy ends No Country For Old Men with as well), to the mysterious old man’s observation about the boy’s belief in God.  There is more, but I do not want to say more about the actual story.

I’ll only add this:  McCarthy is a profound and powerful writer and the book is stunning on many levels.  Mrs. Richardson raised a question out of the clear blue last night about the book that had been on her mind since we finished the last page two nights ago.  And that is the mark of a truly great work, isn’t it?  It stays with you, haunting you almost, and continues to work in your mind and in your heart.

Read The Road.

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