The Road

Posted on June 30, 2008 by Steve

It is well that I wasn't aware that this book won its author a Pulitzer Prize. Nothing works against a book more than inflated expectations, and the Oprah endorsement on the cover takes it down a notch in my estimations, if anything. What really made this book stand out was the way it interrupted my progress through the final, stultifying chapters of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I accidentally left at the office on a Friday.

Years have passed since I read a book in anything like a sitting, but I digested this bleak, harrowing, and ultimately heartrending novel in two days. The reader is quickly numbed to horror as the protective father and innocent son wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland of corpses, cannibals, and catamites. The cause of the disaster is only hinted at, but the result is a grayscale world where land, sea, and sky are uniformly colorless and ash covers everything.

McCarthy is in top form with his unmistakable vocabulary and Old Testament grandeur, using so many sentence fragments that critics like B. R. Myers would gouge their eyes out before getting through a chapter. The line between art and artifice is a fine one, and I can see why some readers would look askance at a non sequitur line seemingly lifted from an OOP manual -- "The last instance of a thing takes the class with it" -- in the middle of a paragraph about desolate refugees. If the prose doesn't annoy you, it can be utterly absorbing, and the tale of a road trip through hell leaves you with an unforgettable portrait of a father's unwavering love for his child.