Book Report – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

One of the things on my Bucket List is to read all of the books, that I haven’t already read, on the high school AP reading list.  When I was in high school and college, I don’t remember any of the books that we were required to read being written by anyone other than long-dead authors.  The list I’m working from includes books that were written relatively recently and by authors who are still alive.  I really like the mix of the old and the new.

One of the authors with three books on the list is Cormac McCarthy.  I talked about Cormac McCarthy here.  He’s an interesting fellow, and his books are interesting, too.  He wrote No Country for Old Men which was made into a movie by the Coen brothers in 2007 (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 95% critics approval rating).  I am a big Coen brothers fan, and I liked this movie, too.

I think it’s important to get a feel for the author and the times in which he or she writes to gain a better understanding or context for the material being read.  I don’t know what life experiences led Cormac McCarthy to write this novel, but it is about a man and his son, and he dedicated it to his own very young son.

This novel was published in 2006, and it was made into a movie in 2009 starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, and Robert Duvall.  It came out at about the same time as two other apocalyptic movies – 2012 (2009) and The Book of Eli (2010).  While I did see these two movies, I don’t think I will ever be able to bring myself to see The Road.  I loved the book, and I really like to read apocalyptic literature, but the story is so bleak and dark that I don’t think I can bear see it on film.

This book is really a story of the love between a father and a son who are living in a post apocalyptic world.  The cause of the catastrophe is unknown, but whatever it was it virtually eliminated all plant and wildlife on earth causing the remaining humans to resort to cannibalism.  This world is a dangerous place.

Some people question why the cause of the catastrophe is never mentioned, but I think that is one of McCarthy’s points.  What does it matter what happened or even if it was a natural or a man-made disaster?  The result is the same – a complete deterioration of society and the world as we know it.

Is this too far fetched?  Some studies suggest that societies in chaos can deteriorate into total anarchy in as little as 2 weeks with the young, the old, and the weak suffering the greatest.  We only have to look at the world at large to see the situation in Haiti which was caused by a natural disaster and the situation in Darfur which was caused by politics to see that the answer is no.

The father and son leave their home knowing that they will be unable to survive another season there.  They leave behind the memories of The Woman – the father’s wife and the son’s mother.  In this world, names and identities and even most relationships no longer matter.

The story focuses on the father and the son while they travel south along the road.  It is a story of survival and love in a very bleak and frightening world.  The ending is difficult yet provides a small glimmer of hope and leaves the reader with much to think about.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 74% critics approval rating, but I think it is only this low because those who didn’t recommend it thought it was too gray and bleak.  That, however, was the point and not getting the point doesn’t make it a bad movie.

The book is an easy read at only 287 pages – just remember that McCarthy does not like punctuation marks so you have to pay attention to follow the dialogue.  I recommend reading The Road and then go hug your children.

Note on cannibalism:  Both The Road and The Book of Eli refer to cannibalism.  If you watched The Book of Eli, they constantly refer to “the others” and to prove you are not one of “them” you must hold out your hands to make sure that they don’t shake.  When Eli and Solara meet the old couple who offer them tea, you wonder how they have managed to survive.  When the tea cups rattle due to shaking hands, you sense that something is not quite right.  Turns out that a symptom of cannibalism is hands that shake due to a condition called Prion disease.  Who knew?

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