Every once in a great while, you come across a book that affects you at such a deep level that it alters how you see the world around you. The Road is one of those books, but I still can’t bring myself to recommend it to everyone.
The story of The Road follows a father and his son as they try to make their way through a world that has been ravaged by some apocalyptic event. We’re never told exactly what happened, but whatever it was has burned the world and made it into a gray expanse of charred everything. Nothing new grows, and the few people that survived now live in a world where the weak take from the strong and where the most inhuman things are done in the name of survival.
Cormac McCarthy’s writing wraps itself around you in a way I’ve never experienced before. Many times I found myself looking up from the book and realizing the coffee house I was reading in wasn’t in the midst of a charred and gray world. Sometimes this realization physically shocked me, and sometimes I needed to look up to remind myself that the world still had color.
Another interesting aspect of McCarthy’s writing is the nature of the dialogue. McCarthy doesn’t use the conventional quotes around character dialogue, nor does he use any “, the father said” or “, the son said” so it become difficult at times to decide who is saying what. I believe this is intentional, and it does force you to pay more attention than you usually would during these interactions. In fact, a couple of times I had to go back and piece together who was saying what because what I thought was coming from the son’s mouth seemed like something the father should be saying.
Cormac McCarthy has been writing for years. His first book, “The Orchard Keeper,” was written in 1965. In many of his works, such as the more recent “No Country for Old Men,” there is an aspect of intense violence. The Road is no exception to this. It is one of the reasons I find it hard to recommend this book to everyone I know. There are truly horrifying scenes to this book, brought about by the unique nature and darkness of the setting. Images of what happen within this book haunt me, even months after reading it.
When my daughter Amanda was born (and ever since then), I’ve had an overwhelming, almost basic need to protect her. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, afraid that something has happened to her. I’ve noticed, too, that television, movies, and even books take advantage of that feeling and will use children in precarious situations to evoke emotion from the audience. Sometimes this is flagrant and feels like a tool, and even breaks the suspension of disbelief because you can recognize it as such.
In The Road, this type of relationship and feeling is central to the book. The father’s deep love for his son is overwhelming and powerful. The decisions that the father has to make and the thoughts that run through his head are ones that I hope I never have to contend with, but they never have the feeling of melodrama. The powerful nature of the father’s love is simply magnified and illuminated by the darkness of the book’s setting.
By the end of reading this book, I was physically and emotionally tired. The ending of the book actually brought me to tears. The last time I remember crying over a book was “Where the Red Fern Grows” as a kid, and the emotions brought from this book were much more powerful than that. It is this power over me that forces me to recognize this book as great, even thought I can’t recommend it to everyone.
So, if you’re looking for a book that will affect and challenge you at a very deep level, and can handle disturbing scenes of violence, then I would recommend this book. If you’re looking for something more along the lines of “escapist” writing, then you might want to pick something else.