Tuesday, August 19, 2008

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is Cormac McCarthy's novel about a man and his son trying to make their way through post-apocalyptic America. In 2007, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was featured on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club.

The story, plain and simple, deals with the man and the boy and their quest to reach the coast while avoiding bandits, scavengers, and cannibals. The interplay between the man and the boy is well done, although McCarthy allows the story to fall into a somewhat tedious repeating pattern of starve/find a stockpile/starve/find a stockpile. The end of the novel is somewhat predictable and perhaps not as poignant as McCarthy intended (or as some critics have claimed).

McCarthy uses vivid, sometimes ponderous language that works more often than not, and this is what makes the novel so memorable. The Road is short and spare, but McCarthy still manages to immerse the reader in his dark, cold, horror-filled world. He's also able to create a degree of suspense. McCarthy (in the voice of the man) often falls into something akin to stream-of-consciousness, and this works less frequently. Sentence fragments abound, jarringly.

The Road is so postapocalyptic that no quotation marks or narrative commas have survived. McCarthy also leaves out apostrophes from most contractions that occur in narrative (he does use them in dialogue), but uses them in less frequently-occurring contractions (like "he'd"). This inconsistency helps McCarthy's style come off as pretentious. How is it, exactly, that these literary types like McCarthy get away with disregarding the rules of punctuation and syntax so egregiously? It's pretentious any way you slice it.

Ultimately, The Road is more than the sum of its parts, and that, I suppose, is one of the things that makes good writing. Yes, it's pretentious, but it's also vivid and memorable.