Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

The cover of 'The Road', which is written in red distressed letters along with Cormac McCarthy's name in dark grey letters, all of which sits on a black backdrop. With my new job came a 5-day-a-week train commute. I love it. As a result, the number of books I’ve read this past month has spiked dramatically. After reading a brief synopsis of the plot, I picked up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road over lunch. By the next evening, I’d finished it.

The plot, to frame it in a manner as spare as McCarthy’s style, follows the journey of a father and son traveling by foot across a portion of the U.S. in a world roughly a decade (give or take) after an apocalyptic occurrence, which has left both the earth and humanity barren and blackened.

McCarthy’s style is, apparently, quite spare as a matter of course, so I’m not sure if The Road is in line with his other books or even more stripped down than usual. Either way, the tale is delivered with a simplicity and clarity that I’ve hungered for in so many other situations, but hadn’t received. McCarthy’s style is a kind of poetic prose. It has all of the weight and careful crafting of poetry but its payload is delivered with the unassuming clarity and directness of prose. The typesetting is deceptive and adds pages to what is a fairly brief novel, but I found it to be the perfect length. At its opening, we join the man and boy in the midst of their journey, as though we’ve encountered them in the fog along one of the long-deserted highways. In the end, we leave just as quietly, knowing that our time with them was simply a crucial scene, rather than the full story.

From beginning to end, I was pulled into the relationship of the man and boy (who are also father and son) and deeply touched by the questions and emotions it brought to the surface. There were moments in the telling of the tale that cut straight through to my core in the best possible ways. The post-apocalyptic setting is a still but savage canvas upon which McCarthy makes stark strokes, evoking an emotional depth and enfolding sense of place. The immersive completeness of it was surprising, given how little context and few details are given. The effortless simplicity of it all belies the great skill clearly at work in its construction.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Road to everyone. It’s not an easy read, emotionally speaking, but its rewards are proportionally great.

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