Review | The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is a veteran of groundbreaking fiction.  You may recognise his name from bestsellers like No Country for Old Men or controversial classics like Blood Meridian.  His distinct style makes readers’ eyes pop and writers tremble with envy.  The Road (2006) is perhaps his most accessible novel since it contains a comparatively small amount of blood and gore.  It has an emotional sensitivity that will win over readers.  

A father and his young son trek through a ravaged wasteland on their way to the coast.  Their only defence against deadly attackers and the cruel elements are a cart of scavenged food and a pistol with only two bullets remaining.

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.  Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.  His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath – page 1

9780307455291-ukAs demonstrated by these opening sentences, much of McCarthy’s writing isn’t technically correct.  However, his purposeful adaptation on grammar and punctuation rules allows him to compose a unique voice.  I love the effect of the repetition and sentence fragments.  They create rhythm, imitating the woozy pace of the characters themselves as they walk slowly towards their goal.

McCarthy’s settings are bleak and beautiful.  Sensory descriptions bring the inhospitable world through which the characters travel to life in stark, blistering detail.  Everything the characters see, smell, and hear is what lingers most vividly after reading.  McCarthy puts the world into new words.

Without chapters, The Road is broken up by line spaces into connected but separate scenes, many only a paragraph long.  This makes it easy to pick up and put down the novel at any point.  Although the plot is not action-packed, the pace is consistently steady.  I binge-read the entire thing in a couple of sittings.  My film tie-in edition is published with invitingly large margins and well-spaced text.

The character development is compelling enough to support the entire plot.  The father’s and son’s voices sound real.  Their dialogue is expertly pruned to show their souls and gradually reveal the visceral pain and love that comprise the story’s essence.  In keeping with McCarthy’s style, the dialogue is not traditionally punctuated.  This lets the voices slip in and out without disrupting the narrative’s rhythm.  At times it prompts you to ask what is speech and what is the writer’s own thought.

The ending of The Road is worth the journey – not because it’s exciting, but because it completes one emotional phase and passes on to another out of sight of the reader.  This is a memorable and very sad story that will give you a lot to think about.  McCarthy’s extremely polished style is engrossing.  

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