[The Road] by [[Cormac McCarthy]]

TalkDystopian novels

Join LibraryThing to post.

[The Road] by [[Cormac McCarthy]]

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

1nohrt4me
Jul 1, 2007, 2:03pm

Just finished reading this, as have others in the Dystopian group.

It's an interesting book in this genre in that the dystopia is really a no-topia--no real social order exists and there is nothing left alive on earth but the unhappy people who have survived some sort of world-wide cataclysm.

It reminds me a bit of the Fisher King legend.

A bit of A Canticle for Liebowitz.

And I think it prompts readers with a theological bent to think about man's essential relationship with God.

Any takers?

2davisfamily
Jul 19, 2007, 9:37am

I have to admit that I enjoyed the bleakness.

3lquilter
Sep 7, 2007, 9:19pm

Folks might be amused by this brief note from Ursula K. Le Guin "on serious literature" (Ansible, July 2007) -- references to Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy's latest.

4avaland
Sep 16, 2007, 9:30am

While I realize I'm in the minority, The Road felt a bit contrived to me.

5lquilter
Sep 16, 2007, 10:08am

I'm not sure you're in the minority. I haven't read it, so I can't offer an opinion about this particular work, but it seems like quite often a non-genre writer who writes a pure genre tale isn't quite as savvy about using the conventions of the genre -- resulting in something that feels a little contrived. Like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, to give the most obvious example ....

6nohrt4me
Sep 16, 2007, 4:05pm

I find McCarthy's style somewhat contrived overall.

Example: I read "No Country for Old Men," and found his unconventional use (or lack of) punctuation annoying. In my view, it bespeaks a kind of arrogance ("punctuation? I don't need no stinkin' punctuation!") and also distracts from the story.

I found the writing tics less annoying in "The Road," I suppose because the story itself is a bit unreal.

There may be plot elements you also found contrived--perhaps you'd like to elaborate? :-)

7Unreachableshelf
Sep 30, 2007, 9:12pm

So the lack of punctuation is consistant for McCarthy? I thought maybe in The Road, the apocalypse burned all the quotation marks.

8avaland
Edited: Oct 3, 2007, 8:26pm

>5 lquilter: I'm not sure I agree with your statement re nongenre/genre authors; however, I'm not sure I can put my finger on the elements that feel contrived...it's more that the whole package was set up for the very moving ending (which we knew was coming).
And the picture of a post-apocalyptic America wasn't new to me like it might have been to other readers. I was also reminded a bit of Miller's A Canticle for Lebowitz and I had read The Pesthouse prior to the McCarthy.

Anyone read the latest dystopia?..The Last American King, I think it's called (or something like that). Publishers Weekly gave it a very positive review, said it deserved wider readership, but also made it sound a bit like a Dumas novel (adventure, love...)

I loved The Handmaid's Tale, btw. That said, I should reread it now that I'm a helluva lot older.

9nohrt4me
Oct 5, 2007, 6:50pm

SPOILER:

What did you make of the ending?

Did the father's promise that "goodness will find you" come true?

And was the goodness real or a hallucination, a la "The Little Match Girl"?

And if the new "family" is real, what do they have to look forward to? It seems clear that the only way to survive is scavenging increasingly dwindling supplies or cannibalism.

10rufustfirefly66
Oct 6, 2007, 12:15am

Message 9. Yes, it's McCarthy's most hopeful novel, but it seems to be ultimately a empty, fruitless hope. Maybe "carrying the fire" and being the "good guys" even when hope is empty and futile is McCarthy's point. Or maybe that's just my point. It's powerful novel.

11nohrt4me
Oct 6, 2007, 9:07am

#10, that's why I see theological overtones in the book, I guess.

We know the world will end eventually; we're already on "The Road" now, and I sensed that McCarthy believes that no matter how bad it gets, our actions still matter to some Larger Presence.

What I thought was interesting was how the father was the boy's physical protector, but the boy was the father's spiritual protector. The father would have fallen into despair or savagery without the boy.

SPOILER:
And the boy's heart is truer, as in that heartbreaking episode where the boy sees a small child and the father refuses to go back and look for it or help it.

The father loves the boy, but the boy has "the love that is not particular." And of course, only "as a little child" could you have hope or compassion in a landscape like that.

There's also a bit of Lancelot/Galahad grail story there (only the pure of heart get the "prize"), and the landscape seemed lifted right from the Fisher King legend.

12LadyLo
Oct 28, 2007, 12:59pm

Maybe I am making too much of the ending, but it appeared to me that since the boy hadn't eaten for over 3 days, and was already near starvation prior to that, and the father mentioned several times that "good dreams" meant they were close to death.....I am convinced the boy was merely dreaming or hallucinating that he had finally found the "good guys" and the perfect family to go off into the "dark gray sunset" with. In the end there is nothing....the last paragraph states "of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again." Nothingness.

13nohrt4me
Oct 28, 2007, 6:54pm

Ladylo, good analysis.

I wonder if you'd buy the notion that even if this is a hallucination, though, that it is not a hallucination of fear or horror (which seems to be the reality of the landscape), but of hope and love.

In a way, I see that as the final gift his father gives him, the ability to die with hope in his heart, in purity of spirit, rather than having succumbed to the awful realities of survival.

14LadyLo
Oct 28, 2007, 7:24pm

nohrt4me......I am in total agreement, and I couldn't have said it better.

15Vonini
Nov 22, 2007, 10:56am

I'm a big fan of the handmaid's tale! I read it in high school and again a couple of months ago and it still blew me away!

I have the road TBR, I was really looking forward to it, but after reading the comments, I'm a bit less enthusiastic... No punctuation, sounds irritating... ^^

16authenticjoy
Jan 2, 2008, 11:07pm

The lack of punctuation seems to be consistent for McCarthy. I just finished reading Blood Meridian and the punctuation is nonexistent in that as well. Blood Meridian makes The Road seem like a trip to Disney Land.

I thought the lack of punctuation gave his work more of a punch to the gut. Somehow it makes the words more 'matter of fact' and the action that's taking place a matter of record. His landscapes are so bleak and hopeless that any punctuation would give them color that it didn't deserve.

17nohrt4me
Jan 3, 2008, 10:25am

authenticpoppy, I like your analysis and defense.

In "The Road," punctuation, the roadsigns of writing, are absent just as there are no roadsigns in the landscape.

But I don't think his lack of punctuation works in some of McCarthy's other books, e.g., "No Country for Old Men," which is a more straightforward narrative.

I realize we're getting into personal preferences and aesthetics here. But in "my world," when an author declines to provide the reader with conventions that promote understanding of the text, it has to be because the ordinary signposts of punctuation, transition and the like would actually inhibit your understanding of the story. I'm thinking of Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" or Walker's "The Color Purple" as examples.

On the other hand, I've always thought e.e. cummings' typographical tics as simply a marketing gimmick.

18avaland
Jan 7, 2008, 8:46pm

>17 nohrt4me: interesting thoughts. I remember Kate Grenville's Idea of Perfection had no quotation marks for dialog. I thought at the time it had an interesting affect, a sort of distancing, the equivalent of looking through a window.

19ajaxthecrum First Message
Feb 1, 2008, 6:16am

I would agree with you avaland. I preferred some of McCarthy's other stuff like the Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian.

20avaland
Apr 2, 2008, 2:04pm

a late welcome to you, ajaxthecrum!

I have had an interesting discussion with another LTer via email regarding The Road and have encouraged her to post here. Her interpretation is intriguing and somewhat different from the 'norm.'
It might even salvage the book for me:-)

I did use the novel for a paper I needed to do for a popular culture class, pointing out such American icons as the gun, the shopping cart, and, of course, the road (although the road also figures in the literature of other cultures also - I'm particularly thinking of a lot of the African fiction I read last fall). I also called the book a 'neo-Western' and explained why I thought so (I have not read other McCarthy novels, btw) and linked it to the post 9/11 trends elaborated on by Susan Faludi in her book, The Terror Dream. I understand now that McCarthy is not new to this, but I still think he's probably an astute enough observer to see this and run with it.

21kambrogi
Edited: Apr 3, 2008, 9:01am

Thanks, avaland. I am posting my side of the conversation with you below. I did agree with norht4me that liberties taken with punctuation are not in themselves a problem. I assume there is a reason, and if the book works, it can often make sense. For some of you, it seems it did not work, but for me it was fine. I was very impressed with this book. I think McCarthy makes a practice of showing dying worlds or dysfunctional worlds, and so this dystopian vision is not so out of the pattern for him, and as avaland points out if is also much in the form of a Western.

Norht4me, I agree with most of your opinions on the book, but I don't see the end as a hallucination, because it goes on to describe his life with these people as time goes on, which is not consistent with a hallucination.

One thing that I found was that the end seemed to imply that, as much as the father loved the son, he also misled him. They never found the "good people," even though we realize at the end that they were there all the time. Those people understood survival, yet didn't eat people, showed compassion (something the father could only summon for his son) and -- interestingly -- featured both a woman and God. They had apparently been watching the man and boy for some time, but did not think it wise to approach them. Most importantly, those people avoided the Road.

Avaland pointed out in her essay that following the Road was ironic, as it had lost its purpose, there no longer being any cars to go down it. I think the point was that the Road represents the old path, the path of the gun and the shopping cart, and also the path that leads to doom. In the book, those who followed it were little better than predators, and the boy himself seems to understand this -- to understand a great deal that the man does not get. Although the "good people" also carry guns, and thus are humans in our image, I still think McCarthy indicates that if we persist on our current path, our traditional one, we are heading toward our own destruction.

And the fact that the man and boy are supposed to be carrying the fire (the strength of the tribe), but in fact the father drops the lighter and thus no longer actually carries the fire, seems to drive the point home. His path, navigated on an ancient map that no longer represents the real world, is the only one he knows, but it is the path toward death, and the hope of the future is not on it.

22avaland
Apr 8, 2008, 8:12am

kambrogi, I hadn't really picked up on the dropping the lighter and the larger 'carrying the fire' thing. That's really interesting. But does McCarthy suggest what the 'new' path should be?

23kambrogi
Edited: Apr 8, 2008, 3:41pm

I think McCarthy suggests the wrong path, and thus on some level the right one. The right path seems to abandon the shopping cart and appears to embrace women, compassion and God. Interesting ...

24ajaxthecrum
Jul 30, 2008, 11:15pm

Avaland...I recommend reading Blood Meridian and the first 2 books of the border trilogy. While the road was interesting enough, the style of writing seemed to have lost something. It's all a matter of perspective I suppose

25PhoenixTerran
Sep 4, 2008, 11:24am

I just finished reading this a few days ago (my review should be up later today). I really wasn't that impressed with it--mostly a stylistic thing, I think. The story was a good one, the presentation just didn't work for me. That, and the very ending (the bit with the veteren and his family) didn't seem right. Where the heck did that come from? Unless they end up eating the boy--that would make more sense. :-)

The story in it's entirety also seemed a bit predictable to me. I wasn't shocked, or really surprised, with anything that happened. A generally pattern of "We're doing okay, now we're starving, oh look! we found an undisturbed cache of food and goods, etc." developed which detracted from the whole story.

I did like that over time the father slowly changed from keeping them both alive to teaching his son how to survive on his own after he would die (without explicitly telling him so). McCarthy's prose was evocative, and often poetic, but I'm not sure it was always comprehensible English. Overall, the book just didn't seem to have much of a point. For me anyways--I know lots of people who really like this book. And it won a Pultizer, so it must have some merit.

26alabaster
Jan 12, 2009, 4:32am

I enjoyed the Road, I thought it was incredibly bleak. I actually enjoyed the lack on punctuation - once I got used to it I found it really drew me in to the story.

27Kate_Martin26
Oct 26, 2011, 11:03am

Avaland,

I'm wondering if you could help me. Just joined librarything because I came across this thread and it caught my attention straight away. I'm currently doing a Masters in English and I'm thinking of doing my first paper based on The Road, Susan Falludi's Terror Dream, maybe Handmaid's Tale - not sure. Could you let me know what you looked at? Your question? Other texts? Critical texts? I'm just at the beginning now, I can can pick any recents books or films and it needs to be loosely based on 9/11. Thanks in advance!

28lquilter
Edited: Dec 2, 2011, 12:18pm

I haven't read it. I've been disinclined to read it, although it's on my "to-read-eventually" list, because there's so much hype about this book, and lack of punctuation strikes me as pretentious.

23:
> I think McCarthy suggests the wrong path, and thus on some level the right one. The
> right path seems to abandon the shopping cart and appears to embrace women,
> compassion and God. Interesting ...

This doesn't exactly make me more likely to read it. "{E}mbrace women" sounds like it's directed to men. So if that's the message, is it aimed at men who are screwing up by choosing the wrong "road" currently? And if so what's in it for me? (a woman) What's the universal?

29Steelyshan
Dec 2, 2011, 10:04am

Aside from those writing college papers, cant anyone just enjoy the ride without looking for deep messages? I read the book, it was dark and sort of depressing but a blessed relief from happy vampire endings that I had been reading.

30nohrt4me2
Dec 14, 2011, 6:34pm

"Aside from those writing college papers, cant anyone just enjoy the ride without looking for deep messages?"

Sure! But if you're not interested in a discussion, you don't need to participate. Why grouse about those of us who DO want to take it apart a bit?

31avaland
Apr 10, 2012, 5:09pm

>27 Kate_Martin26: Apologies. I did not see your message to me until today! I doubt I can offer anything helpful after the fact:-(

>28 lquilter: Laura, I've read several books that eliminate quotation marks, which is what McCarthy does. I think it has the effect of creating distance, like watching the story take place through a window.

32St._Troy
Mar 28, 2019, 10:55am

Suntup Editions will announce a new special edition tomorrow, and many "in the know" (myself not among them) are quite confident that it will be The Road.

As yet, all there is is a 0:51 video at https://suntup.press/.

(If it turns out not to be The Road, you have my apologies.)