The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness.” – Chicago Tribune

This is a book you read because you are in awe of the written word, not because you want to know what happens. In case you haven’t seen the movie or know the general gist from the trailer, it’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a father and a son after the world as we know it has ended. A nuclear war has blacked out the sun (like in The Matrix), causing all the plants to die and all our livestock to starve, and The Road starts long after all the canned food in evacuation centers has been consumed. McCarthy creates a world where humanity has degenerated into solitary hunter-gatherers, scouring the ash wasteland for anything edible amongst the garbage and carcasses in order to survive.

Despite the hype surrounding All the Pretty HorsesNo Country for Old Men, and Blood Meridian, I’m pleased that The Road was my first foray into McCarthyism. I was startled by his manipulation of language and unconventional use of punctuation. The narrative’s incomplete sentences and lack of dialogue markers is disorienting, making the page an uncomfortable and foreboding landscape like the fictional world within the novel.

This isn’t prose; it’s poetry:

Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.


Image Source: Quarterly Conversation

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