Friday, December 25, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy may have written some of the most haunting images set to print in the last decade. But don't blink when you read The Road, or you'll miss them.

McCarthy takes us on a journey through post-apocalyptic America at an indescriminate time, as we follow a father and his son of an indeterminate age, who are on the run because of evil that remains largely inconclusive. Despite so many questions McCarthy leaves unanswered, vivid imagery is plentiful, painting a perfectly bleak alternate world. A world in which to wish you were never born is luxury.

McCarthy writes in a haphazard stream of consciousness that leaves the reader wondering if he spent vast amounts of time editing - or none at all. Each word, paragraph, and vignette of this survival story feels like it was placed just so. It's almost as if McCarthy whittled away at his story until only the most necessary words remained. Many sentences are left without subjects or verbs. (The first example comes on page one: "Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.") Apostrophes and commas are hard to find; quotation marks make no appearances in the novel. And the language itself is gorgeous in its sparsity; absolutely nothing is imposing. The words flow so quickly you hardly notice the gore or intensity of what is happening. Surely this kind of word-wizardry can only be attained through revision? Watch this interview with McCarthy himself and you'll wonder. Either way, this is certainly a masterful work.

You should know, though, this book is not for the faint of heart. It has its fair share of charred bodies and cannibalism. Also, the plot is tedious - if you can even recognize the goings on as plot. However, this is a book with important things to say. It begs a second and third reading because it asks so many questions. Some questions are broad: define "good" and "bad" and "courage." It asks us about the preservation of memory. It asks us about dreams. It asks about long-term goals. It asks about death. And some questions are specific: If we lose our ability to communicate, do we in turn lose ourselves? Is fiction truer than life itself? When all you have to live for are lies, do those lies become the truth?

The answers may lie on The Road.

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