“The Road” is one of those books that is very divisive. Not because its content is particularly unique, (though some of it certainly is sensational) but because the structure of the book is so non-traditional. The author, Cormac McCarthy is now very well known and respected because his book, “No Country For Old Men” was made into the now famously rewarded film. The cover of the book jacket of our copy of “The Road” says that now this book is also being made into a feature film. So one’s immediate conclusion would be that the book is, in fact, good. My first question about this book being made into a movie is, “Why?”
But “good” in this case is really going to depend on the person who sits down to read it. Some things to know in advance before reading the book (NO PLOT SPOILERS, minor spoilers about structure)…there is little to no punctuation. The book is written very stream of consciousness. Personally, this is not my favorite style. We have punctuation for a reason, and while I can understand why people enjoy experimenting with a lack of punctuation…writing an entire book that is so sparsely punctuated tends to get annoying very quickly. On top of being distracting, it also comes across as being a little smug. Everyone else has to use punctuation, what makes this story the exception? If I tried to publish a book in this structure tomorrow as an unknown author, I’d get laughed out of town. But sometimes when people get recognized for one work, people say whatever they do is golden…I’m not saying for sure that this is the case with, “The Road”, but maybe…
Also, this book dives right into its story, every now and then doing some retrospective revelations about how we got to our starting point a la J.J. Abrams. But beyond those minor and generic back-story moments…the book rarely offers any pertinent information in the “why” category. This gets a little maddening. There is little to no exposition about what specific events lead up to the situation in which we find our main characters. Again, like sparse punctuation…leaving your readers to infer the meaning of something can be a useful tool. But leaving them to infer the entire reasons behind your plot, again, can be extremely distracting. At least it was for me.
At times, the book felt more like a showcase of ideas and concepts, lacking any kind of bonding agent or character development. It’s like the author sat down and collected ideas about what a post-apocalyptic future would hold in his imagination and then just threw them together. All of the supportive quotes that I’ve read about the book talk about how uplifting the concept of the book is, how touching, how heartfelt. I found it extremely tedious, sensationalist, and lacking a complete and coherent storyline.
If you don’t like French New Wave cinema or slice of life art films, there’s a high likelihood that you will not like, “The Road”. If you enjoy dark, slice of life, non-narratives…you’ll probably love this book.
There are people who will tell me that I just don’t “get” this book because I don’t like it. But I get it. It’s hard not to get it. The story is simple and straightforward. But to me, it lacks a central message. It’s characters are despondent, and I don’t feel their will to live. I don’t sense an arc or development in either of the main characters. Outside of one almost poignant moment featuring an old man, there’s little to no memorable material outside of the violent and horrific images that the author sort of hits you with every now and then. The author toys with the idea of creating a central theme based around the idea of the human need to survive, but he never fleshes it out for us. He only hints at it. Which I guess a lot of people will say makes this book “artsier”.
There is never a moment of emotional intensity outside of the horror. To me, the scariest kind of post-apocalyptic material is the kind that shows humans still being humans. I refuse to believe that if something terrible happens (that is anything like what we’re supposed to guess happens in “The Road”) that all of humankind will start walking around like Emo kids. People will still laugh. Even in the worst of human conditions, there is the occasional funny occurrence, or bit of laughter, or moment of joy. We never got a scrap of that, and that makes it tough to bear a book that is asking us to take a lot in the first place. It’s a good idea executed interestingly by a unique author. And I give him kudos for trying. But the problem is he tried way too hard. He was trying so hard to write a book that basically read like, “This is so serious, can you believe how serious this is? Look how depressing this is, wouldn’t this be SO awful?” that it passed the point of believable. It’s hard to care about characters in a book that you don’t believe are real in situations for which you are given no clarification. Perhaps this idea will better be presented visually when the movie comes out and we can see this being performed instead of reading it in the author’s strange shorthand.