Let's Discuss The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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What boggles my mind at the moment is how they are going to turn TR into a movie. I fear they are going to 'write in' some buxom blond to spice things up. Arrgh :(
It emphasizes the loss of civilization and continuity and realness of their lives to me.
We also never learn what set of circumstances brought about the apolcalypse. By the time we catch up with the man and boy it is clear that it doesn't matter - they are in desperate survival mode. I don't recall one rumination by the man about why or what or even much anger about the destruction of earth.
I found the description of the "fallout" very interesting - fires hot enough to melt steel, the constant ash fall, the total destruction of all living flora and most fauna.
I'll be adding posts as I have time and think about things more - this book was powerful and scary and yet had hope. I loved this book.
I loved the book and the final glimpse of hope and human kindness emerging.
The book it seemed to start mid story, and have no real ending. It was like we entered and got to see just a small section of their life. I tried forever to figure out where in the US they were, but couldn't.
I wonder if McCarthy has answers as to what, why, and how this happened or was he just writing a what if? book where the why doesn't matter.
I had previously read No Country for Old Men which I really loved and everyone here said wait till you read The Road, it was an amazing book, but I think I still liked Old Country better.
#4 ThePam--they certainly didn't do that in No Country for Old Men. They kept that one dark.
Did anyone have a change of heart about shopping carts?
I loved the fact that the man would not give in/give up.
#5 I thought the reason why the man wasn't raging about the "why" was because he'd already gone through that stage before we got to the story. I felt that it was like dealing with death, which has stages one must go through before one comes out on the other side.
#7 Nice to hear you like No Country, because I just picked it up to start tonight.
JanuaryW - I thought that one of the most wonderful parts of the book was the innate goodness/compassion in the boy. I am sure that he learned some of it from his father, but often his compassion eclipsed that of his father.
It was especially interesting that the boy was born into the destruction and that he, even more than his father who had memories of society, yearned to be with others.
I was glad it was so short, because I wanted to finish, and not miss any signs of hope or goodness. None to be found.
Unlike some, I didn't mind not knowing where they were and what had happened before. This was, ultimately, a story of survival, and it really didn't matter how they had gotten into that situation (although I have imagined a scenario or three about the how).
I read The Road earlier this year and haven't stopped thinking about it since. Not that it haunts me, but it continues to resonate within me when I think of it. After that, I read No Country for Old Men, which did not impress me as much. Talk about dark endings! Not even a glimmer of a ray of hope there. And, since it was set in contemporary times, it was almost more scary than The Road. I mean, the drug cartels and the violence and the psychotic killers are with us NOW, not in some possible future. That bothers me more.
But! I freely say that I most often read to be entertained or to learn something.
I want to find ways to feel good.. not more sad.. so that has a lot to do with my preferences . But that is what makes the world work, we all have different tastes.
I found the Road really powerful, although I'm not exactly sure what did it. Part of it was the father-son bit, and the questions of what-would-you-do. I mean the whole book the man is talking hope, but he doesn't see a single sign of it. Everything is dead, and there isn't even a hint of any renewable food to be found, only spoils of still undiscovered canned food (and human flesh, but that's not to his ... um... taste). Was he delusional? I kind of wondered whether his wife didn't have the most reasonable response.
But then The Man does go through some amazing survival skills, and they do lead a life of sorts. And the end justifies the man (and I really liked the end). But the book didn't have to end that way. It could easily of been either rather gruesome, or something else.
Some responses to above:
#almost everyone: Hope.
I think the book brings up interesting questions hope. But, I’m not complete sure it was hopeful. Maybe it was about false hope. I’m still thinking about this.
#6 CEP: the literary power of the lack of information
Yeah, I agree. We never know anything. I was craving info, every tiny bit was sacred.
#7 sydamy: where in the US were they
The lower Appalachian mountians. I thought about this a lot, then I looked in up in Wikipedia which spoiled the fun. At one point they pass a sign on roof that says “See Rock City”. Later they cross some mountains, and a long time later see the coast. I checked Rock City on Google and found four locations. One is upstate Illinois; the other three are somewhat close together, in the vicinity of Nashville, TN and Huntsville, AL. So, my guess was the book started in Tennessee somewhere and that they crossed a pass in the southern Appalachian Mountains and eventually reached the coast in South Carolina or Georgia. That McCarthy grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee is maybe significant. (I had this idea that perhaps the house The Man grew up in was a description McCarthy’s childhood home.)
As far as hope is concerned, I didn't gather that "ray" that other people saw. The world was dead and they were doomed.
I thought the beauty was in their maintaining a standard regardless of conditions. That and McCarthy's beautiful prose.
Btw, I think it was in an Oprah interview that he said the story came to him in a flash. He was in a hotel room with his 7 yo son in west Texas.
I agree with you, janeherr, that the boy represented redemption, but I'm not Christian and didn't think of the child as Christ-like. His being found by a family at the end, that included a girl, made me think that there was the possibility of future generations.
Twice the man and the boy found caches of food and supplies. I kept wondering why the man didn't stop at either place, especially the one underground that was a bomb shelter and had everything they needed for a long time. His drive to the sea was a bit of a puzzlement to me. Did he think that the sea would be blue?
I assumed a nuclear holocaust although the lack of radiation was a puzzle. There were many descriptions of dessicated bodies sitting in chairs or in cars - as though whatever happened happened so suddenly that there was no time to react.
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.
"I think it's interesting that so many people think it was a nuclear event. There is no indication that that was the case."
I agree, I find that interesting as well! I did not get the impression that the devastation was nuclear.
A response in general:
The lack of names is intersting. Like in Blindness, it makes the assumption that without a society or civilizations our names and therefore all sense of manners flies out the window. I don't think this is a fair assessment of humans. I am still not convinced that the child in this book represents hope, empathy and kindness when all other humans in the book until the very end are creul, savage and brutal.
I am not like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, I don;t beleive that man left alone in nature is a noble savage, but I don't think that the opposite is true either.
Anyway, I liked the way the story ended, it was like passing on the torch and hope to the next generation. The author really poured out his heart ... of being a father, how a father will give up his dreams and let his son continue it for him. The book is more like a poetry dedicated to a son.
Knowing that McCarthy had lived in Wyoming I thought that was where their journey had begun, but obviously at the beginning of the book they had been on the Road for some time.
One thing that I thought he didn't explain or "got wrong" was the clothing for the boy. Since the wife was pregnant at the time of the event (whatever it was), she would have had, at most, baby clothes for him. How did they get clothes and shoes for him as he grew? On the Road, the Man finds a few things that fit him, but what came before. This made me more confused that in The Road society had not banded together in a common survival tactic.
"The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions." (page 52, my trade paperback copy)
I'm not sure that helps any, it may kill the volcano theory.
They must stick to the road which isn't a single road, but many, so it needs no name, it is just their Way Out. Or maybe their Way On...which will never end except when they die. (fairly depressing, but then it reminds me of how Jesus is called The Messiah or The Christ and that's what hits me about the title as I read the book.)
And Dkaikin... no those attributes do not exclude the caldera.
Isn't the Science Channel wonderful :--}
What about the idea that the dinosaur extinction was caused by the asteroid hitting earth? Is it possible that same thing happened here?
And also, the situation looks like the "disaster event" happened a few months before the story in the book occured. How would you explain all those food in the processed cans still edible? Doesn't all those processed canned goods have expiration dates of not more than one year? And the book says the disaster happened before the son was born? How old is the boy? eight years old? Are the processed canned goods edible after 8 years? Eating insects would have been more acceptable. I read somewhere that insects can survive any holocaust.
Canned food will last a long time - it's just "recommended" that it be eaten in a year. Now, I wouldn't necessarily eat 30 year old canned peaches, but if I were desperate - who knows, I'd probably give them a try.
I myself wondered about the absence of insects and such creatures as scorpions, but McCarthy's purpose is obviously not to deliver a scientifically plausible account, but to focus symbolically on the utter misery of a lifeless world. Not counting human beings and a hypothetic dog, the only living thing I rememeber meeting in this book is the mould the father finds on the Spanish ship.
What a powerful, haunting read anyway! I remember looking more than once outside the window as if to make sure there were still trees, patches of blue sky (there weren't any, February was a mess this year), a dog, something living. And such beautiful images as that of the sun revolving around the obscured earth like a mourning mother (yet that is scientifically inaccurate too : who wrote about the reader's "suspension of disbelief"? Todorov?).
Which is maybe the point of the novel. Obviously it has some elements of "society creates humanity" rather than the other way 'round, like Lord of the Flies, but maybe the real point is that the man and the boy think that their behavior matters, even as they know that it is the end of the line for humanity, that nothing is coming after and no one will know or care what you've done. I wonder if they are right to think so?
I was also surprised that apparently everything - insects, plants, birds, etc - was dead but that there were so many humans left alive. Were houses that great a protection from the disaster, whatever it was (I agree that radiation isn't very likely - given that the man remembers seeing the event and he was just in his house, which is not likely to protect one from a nuclear bomb)?
Overall, I enjoyed reading it, and thought the sparse dialect of the characters was very fitting. I didn't find it as moving or as haunting as some, but it was certainly worth my time.
Concerning the trout, I think it is pretty clear those were just memories: At the start (p.41) - "He'd stood at such a river once and watched the flash of trout . . ." At the end (p.286) - "Once there were brook trout in the streams . . ."
I know you can't always trust the characters, but the man says that everything is dead many times, and I don't think there is any evidence to prove him wrong.
I'm a little concerned about the movie - please no CG with things exploding. The desolation describes is scary enough. Hollywood always wants to make things better and usually ends up making them worse.
I thought this was a wonderful book. There is hope for the future. Our children are our hope. The father's love for his child never waivered. I wonder what led McCarthy to write it?
Agree that the novel never clearly spells out the nature of the apocalypse in question, but along with some other posters, I got the impression that it was probably nuclear. It's a textbook nuclear winter "cold death" scenario, and I seem to recall some early, vague mention of great, burning craters to the southwest.
Surprised, though, that so many view this as a hopeless book. I saw it as fundamentally hopeful, though McCarthy characteristically opts for the grimmest draught of hope available. Lke No Country, The Road is essentially a novel about the value of moral decision-making. Perversely, it takes place in a world that does not seem to value any sort of morality, a world that, in fact, seems to repudiate human morality at the most basic level.
In The Road, there is no reason for anyone to adhere to any vision of the good. The world is quite simply over, no one will survive to care, and obeying any dictate but the need to survive will probably get you killed. The only meaningful questions that remain concern how long one can (or wishes to) endure the void that's left behind. Nevertheless, the novel's protagonist stubbornly refuses to give up his "civilized" sense of right and wrong. He refuses to surrender to moral annihilation, though he gains nothing from this refusal, and though physical annihilation seems to be a given. The novel does not condemn this potentially suicidal obduracy. Instead, in his typically bleak and taciturn manner, McCarthy celebrates his abandoned hero, eventually rewarding him with a "happy ending" that may seem improbable, but which clearly reveals the author's sympathies.
I saw The Road as an unapologetically religious text. This reading derives not from any explicitly Christian symbolism, but rather from the way McCarthy heroicizes the act of faith. The state of the planet can be read as a metaphor for a coldly mechanical world in which the seeker can find no material evidence of God. If we accept this metaphorical reading, the protagonist's pilgrimage becomes an argument for sustaining faith in the face of that seeming lack. (Saying this as an agnostic/atheist type, mind...)
Is Cormac McCarthy a religious person? I have no idea about him personally - haven't tried to read any of his books before although I have All the Pretty Horses on my shelves and just pulled it down to look at it.
"You know what absolute freedom is? This guy jumps out of an airplane. As he's falling down, he's saying, 'I'm free! I'm free!' But then you know what happened? His chute didn't open and he smashed to bits on the ground."
This doesn't cast much light on Mr. McCarthy's religious beliefs, but it may tell us a little something about his sense of humor. Anyway, have you read No Country for Old Men? If you liked The Road, read that one. It's a lot of fun, grim but action packed, and the quasi-religious moralism is even more explicit there.
I was one of those who wasn't enamored of The Road. It just flopped down in front of the reader and said "here I am take me or leave me but faGawdSake don't you dare analyze me or you'll get mad."
At least, one heard this voice in one's head as one read along, growing more and more irked at the pretentiousness of the thing.
The narrative is driven by the boy and the man moving from place to place to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. So far, so good, as in "that's a trope we're all familiar with and can hang with." Then we get to the standard, "Mad-Max" film villains. Then environmental destruction a la A Boy and His Dog among many others. Then the man dies at the end, and we are left wondering (if we're decent human beings) what the devil will become of the boy now.
None of this is new, and that's not my problem with it; none of this is particularly well-handled, and that IS my problem with it. Portentously arty non-punctuation doesn't make this a deep book. The French nouvelle roman of the 1940s and 1950s (Alain Robbe-Grillet being one of my favorite practicioners, followed closely by Claude Simon and Nathalie Sarraute) did this stuff fifty years ago and it WAS fresh...now there needs to be some reason to use this technique or it comes across as simply affected.
I have heard from others that I am too harsh in my judgment, that the punctuationlessness of the book is partly making the point that the world lost to the man and the boy means that they are existing without amenities and so we should share in their struggle.
But I am a veteran reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and so acknowledge that I set a very high bar for novels in this genre. I am also a person who enjoys books about fathers and sons. I didn't really get this book from that angle at all. It seemed to me that the man and the boy had a standard f&s thing going, and nothing changed much until the man dies. So your point, Mr. McCarthy, is that sons are abandoned and bereft and directionless and vulnerable after the death of their father?
I enjoyed reading the posts to get a real grasp of what this novel is about. I'm glad to have my curiosity satisfied. It saves me the time and trouble of reading the book which I probably wouldn't have ever gotten around to--too many other things on my TBR pile. I had tried a couple of his earlier books when they came out and wasn't really excited about them--didn't finish either one-- but there has been so much hype about this one I thought maybe I should try again. But I don't think would be to my taste--no offense to those who loved it, but I'm not surprised to learn it was an Oprah book.
Anyway, I don't disagree with anything in your post. It's all true. And had I read the book looking for something better-than-other-post-apocalyptic-novels * I don't know that would have taken anything from the book.
My other thought is that the story isn't the point of this book. Actually, not much happens. This book is more about exploring the meaning of the world McCarthy created. And about exploring survival. For what purpose the does man carry on through all this; why not follow his wife's example? And what roll does faith and religion play in this survival? And there is a constant conversation between the grown man who knows what the world was like before the event, and a young boy who was born after the event. The boy has innocent and foolish questions - but also fundamental questions about their life. The man has an art to his answers. He is playing the humble wise man, and he doesn't talk down to his son, but does talk at this sons level. For me these conversations were maybe my favorite parts of the books. I'm getting off my point - which is that this is not a quest story, or even a story about survival, it's a philosophical journey of sorts.
*I have no idea why it's posting at "novel..." instead of as "novels" as I typed it.
None of which is intended to say you shouldn't or are wrong to enjoy the book on each and all of these levels. I am not saying that my opinion is True And Correct, only that I judge this book quite harshly because it is so very highly praised and the author is held up as an exemplar of talent and gift. I disagree, and I don't take prisoners when I disagree.
When a book is touted as breaking new ground, as this one was, I want to see that. I didn't. This makes me feel very emperor's-new-clothesish.
what then is the territory explored? - A thread in itself. But, a quick short answer: Hope, Religion (the power of; the naturalness of; the irrelevance of the details of;...), the fragility of life, the tenacity of humanity, the barbarity of humanity, what we will do for our children, the value of life...
Why should this conversation take place in this post-apocalyptic world? - I don't know, but I presume largely for dramatic effect. But also to reach some the questions of above - especially the fragility of life. You could have a similar story by stumbling across the antarctic, but it wouldn't quite have the same effect or meaning.
what value does that setting add to the somewhat pedestrian rehash the book makes of The Republic's allegory of the Cave? I haven't a friggin clue. But I'm interested in your thoughts. The only thing I know about Plato's cave is from Sophie's World (also from some other long lost post somewhere in LT) and I've already forgotten the details.
When a book is touted as breaking new ground, as this one was, I want to see that. I didn't. This makes me feel very emperor's-new-clothesish. -- see my goofy tightrope point above.
Sure it makes sense, but I don't grant your point. In order to put anything at all into a context, we must by definition separate ourselves from an immediate experience and provide connections and influences and the like. There is little value in experience unless it contributes to the store of wisdom the experiencer possesses.
This being a point easily belabored, I move to criticism...in order to criticize something a critic needs a fund of experiences that relate to the criticized experience. Then applying the experience, and deriving a conclusion from the application, is by its nature removing the critic from immediate sensations and opinions.
So. I read this book with expecatations formed in large part by critical praise and commercial adulation in the form of Oprah and sales figures. My expectations were based on what I have read previously, and what I should, as a reader, be able to trust the praise and kudos to indicate.
I brought to the party my own experiences of post-apocalyptic novels, of literature at large, and of previous McCarthy books.
I concluded that The Road wasn't anything very special after all based on those factors. And the tightrope point goes flooey here because the function I performed was that of a critical reader, not an experiential reader. As an experiential reader, I want to know what the hell the man was playing at rehashing tired themes in a pretentious, portentous faux-sonorous drone, and expecting me to pay $14 for the privilege of having his book on my shelf.
About the Parable of the Cave, see this Wikipediaentry for a pretty decent precis. The thing that I felt Mr. McCarthy was doing is best summed up in this line: "...humans are all prisoners and that the tangible world is our cave. The things which we perceive as real are actually just shadows on a wall." The pre-apocalypse world is the shadow, the wall and the people chained up forced to look at the shadows are the post-apocalypse world.
All the points you bring up in post 56 are valid and important and I don't for an instant want to give the impression that I AM RIGHT. The reasons I hold my opinion of the book, though, are pretty solid as far as I can tell. The ideas dealt with in this book are eternal, eternally important, and very interesting. Would the book had been the same.
Does that make sense? I'm not sure. It's a little mysterious how books do such different things to different people; it's also beautiful in a way.
Is that a word?
I agree about this point. It is not a new trick and it doesn't effectively serve its purpose and, frankly, it's annoying.
>58 dchaikin: d, okay. Point taken. I don't think my fundamental point is invalidated by your accurate observation that analysis will kill the fresh experience of any given stimulus. I think readers must seek a balance on their own as to what constitutes enough vs too much before encountering a given work of art; afterwards, it's all a matter of an individual's need level of further information.
And don't apologize for thinking out loud. I am perfectly willing to go through thought processes. If I ain't in the mood, I won't. Simple!
It sounds (re: #57) as though you came to The Road with inflated expectations, and that they may have overshadowed your appreciation of the novel's modest merits.
First of all, it's a work of popular fiction. Pretentious, perhaps, but fairly simple and straightforward at heart. It moves along at a good clip, and the characters and situations are familiar ones. Although The Road is harsher, artier and more doom-besotted than most of what we're used to finding on the bestseller lists, it's not an especially "groundbreaking" novel.
In spite of that, I still think it's a good one. It worked for me. I was caught up in its surface story, and enjoyed puzzling out the moral implications. I suppose it wasn't necessary that the tale be set in a post-apocalyptic landscape (re: #55), but such an extreme setting throws both the character's struggles and McCarthy's deeper themes into harsh relief. Cuts away the inessentials to get at the meat -- like the Jack London of "To Build a Fire".
*** *** ***
Your mention of The Allegory of the Cave from Plato's Republic is apt (also re: #55). McCarthy is asking us whether our moral convictions are "shadows", thrown by our civilized social imprisonment. If we "prisoners" were freed from these chains (as by the destruction of civilized society), would these seemingly absolute convictions be revealed as merely convenient fictions? Or do they have functions and meanings that transcend their momentary social utility?
Is the Father (novel's main character) in some sense "right" to cling to his apparently obsolete morality ... or is he merely reassuring himself with faith in something that never existed in order to avoid having to face an unpleasant truth? And if it's the latter, could there be value in his rejection of true (but meaningless) daylight in favor of more meaningful (though imaginary) cave-shadows?
It IS a combination of The Cave and A Boy and His Dog, but I don't see anything wrong with that.
you said: "With an award-winning highly praised book, we have high expectations, and that opens us up to being too critical, and therefore inevitably disappointed."
I think I know what you mean and agree with you. So often when I've been told how wonderful a book is I end up disappointed because I guess I expect to be "blown away" rather than just either entertained or informed or even just absorbed in the story. High expectations often lead to disappointment.
I find the opposite is also true. Sometimes I start a book thinking just pass the time because it's handy and I need something to read and end up being totally enthralled--almost blindsided by how great it is. So perhaps low expectations can lead to real delight.
One thing I have learned--and I think this is true for most readers--I have to make up my own mind how I feel about a book and often it can be related to my mood at the moment, the circumstances in my life at the time I'm reading it, or maybe just some random idea in the book that either touches me or repels me.
Also, for myself, I can read almost anything if it is well written--I have some authors I have a love/hate relationship with--love their writing, not fond of the subject matter! (I feel that way about much of Truman Capote as well as McCarthy) And the reverse is true--authors whose subject matter I find compelling but who I can hardly stand to read because the writing is so clunky. (Can't come up with any specific ones right now in that catagory--just remember the feeling when it happens.)
Just my 2 cents worth--
This is, as I have stressed, an opinion, and I don't expect that others should adopt it merely because it is, self-evidently, correct accurate and fair. After all, I AM the Fox News Channel of LT.
**THE ABOVE WAS FACETIOUS**
IF YOU LOVE McCARTHY...this is in that vain
Closest I have found anyway
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.)