EPS Review #182 - The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, Picador, 2006, 307pp.

Another book for our book club, another mainstream novel using a Science Fiction theme. I long ago grew to dislike the post-apocalyptic genre, just like I won't watch anything to do with gangsters. The theme is too well-worn. There is no denying that such survival stories are gripping -- my world was darkened as I wandered The Road's swirling ashes, and I was very pleased when we all came across the underground bunker.

What kind of apocalypse could kill off all plant and animal life except humans (most of whom then of course kill each other.) Atom bombs? Sea life and stuff in crannies should survive, also no radiation is mentioned. Total darkness due to nuclear winter? Even then...oh well, so the premise is not logical. McCarthy is trying for an effect. But it is relevant to the ending, which some in our group thought was inconsistently hopeful. I did not -- I reckon the tinned food will run out soon, and cannibalism is not a growth industry.

The blurbs talk about the beauty of the writing, and some purple patches do stand out against the ashes. But the "torsional" and "vermiculate" ghosts of fish bothered me. Wouldn't "torsional" mean twisting around the forward axis? Fish don't do that. So even the imagery stuck in my logical craw.

Tim said he wept at the end, and admired the evolving relationship between the dying father and maturing son, the latter using more grown-up phrases and surprising his father, they way kids do.

I have been meaning to watch McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, but no luck despite numerous plane rides lately. When given the choice between grim action movies and comedy, I choose fluff every time.

[ On the post-apocalyptic topic, Paul previously recommended World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. ]

John wrote: I'm thinking of rereading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, because it has stuck with me in ways that most books don't. I'm currently in The Fall of Hyperion. Not reading so much now that the semester has started, however.

Finally, no country for old men is showing on cable now but I haven't even bothered to record it because it seems so nihilistic.

Tom wrote: I went through a phase where I only watched comedies. I still avoid most films rated R due to violence. Real life is grim enough, no? Why would I want to "escape" into more grimness? Sounds like, rather than reading "The Road," you'd have been better off watching the film Shaun of the Dead.

Paul wrote: World war Z is so much better than the road. Seriously. Also it's not post apocalptic. Society continues. Just has a bit of a rough spot there.

I really disliked the Road for three key reasons, two of which you mention, one of which you didn't.

  1. I found, as you mention, it to be "bad scifi written ostensibly well", but really not written that well
  2. I found almost no hope in the book at all. Just a total friggin bummer. It was like I was beaten around the head.
  3. I agree the ending is supposed to inspire us about love and humanity, but the foods runnin out anyway.

Rumor is there will be a movie of it soon. Can't wait to skip that, and watch Kung Fu Panda again instead.