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The Road

Cormac McCarthy's epic about a father and son who must survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

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Cormac McCarthy's The Road: What Is Missing Is the Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

  • Aug 2, 2009
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In this summer of luxuriant growth, I find myself thinking of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road because what I see around me is so different from the bleak post-disaster landscape McCarthy describes.  It is not clear in the story how long has passed since the grand cataclysm which has swept away civilization and normal life. We are told that it occurred before the boy at the center of the story was born, and he is clearly 8 or 9 as he and his father trudge across a moonlike landscape, past smoldering forest fires to the lifeless sea. The sole rays of hope in the story are the tender way his father guards him, and the family which welcomes him at the end.

McCarthy apparently lives in the America Southwest now, and I suspect that dry landscape has strongly influenced his vision of what would lie beyond the end of the world. Nothing grows in The Road except for a few mushrooms, and evil in the heart of the cataclysm’s survivors. Despite rain and snow, the man and the boy encounter no signs of new greenery, no sprigs of grass, not even a blasted, genetically damaged lichen. Yet if anything is clear from a study of disaster sites around the world, it is that life will continue, although it may not be life as we know it or desire it.

Plants are thriving this summer here, pushing up through cracks in pavement, taking root on roofs that haven’t been regularly maintained, growing tall in any unused lot. Given enough water and a period of warmth, plants of some kind or another are unstoppable.. The fields and forests around Chernobyl bear witness to this force that through the green fuse drives the flower, as Dylan Thomas put it. So does the volcanic landscape of Mt. St. Helens in Oregon. Within five years the scree and ash had been colonized by the first plant invaders on the mountain sides scorched by a great eruption in 1980.

In the dry Southwest reconstruction of landscape after disaster takes longer, but it still takes place. McCarthy makes no nod toward that fact. Instead his story is a black and white version of what may happen in the hearts of men. The “happy” ending is contrived, tacked on the way the rescue scene at the end of The Lord of the Flies is. If McCarthy had intended to leave us with a glimmer of hope, he would have done better to show us the power of green growth. One of my friends came up with the best explanation for the extraordinary popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Road: it portrays a tender relationship between a man and his son which is something many men lack and most men crave. Such depictions are relatively rare in fiction, and, since the context is a horrific end-of-the-world setting, liking the novel can’t be construed as liking something sentimental.

Therein lies the books popularity--with men.  In one book I belong to all of  us women were surprised that the mother in the book killed herself rather than face the lonely after-Apocalypse world.  Everyone also was puzzled at the extremely positive critical reaction. Our response was very similar to what my cousin Cathy reports took place in her reading group in Nevada: a couple of women found the ending hopeful, but the rest found it very hard going.

Another indication that there are real differences between men and women that show up in the most surprising ways? I think not, because male reactions to the book show that tender feelings are there, it’s just that most men have a long way to go before they can admit to them openly. The Road may be simply a path they must take before they get there.

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August 02, 2009
Hi Mary, another beautiful review. Very well written. I just wanted to let you know that I added a bit of information about the book to the wiki section. The FAQs section has information on how to do this, as well as how to add photos, video or any other media you find relevant. 
More The Road (book) reviews
review by . November 17, 2010
Whew! THE ROAD is a draining, exhausting, bleak, gut-wrenching, bleak, fast-paced, bleak novel. Did I mention it was BLEAK?     The book is 279 pages and they fly by. I think I read the book in 4 hours...I could hardly make myself put it down. I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" reading it...but it was thoroughly gripping, as spare and uncompromising a novel as you would ever want to read.     It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, where the sun is never seen …
review by . February 27, 2011
posted in SF Signal
I recently finished Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, a highly praised and award-winning novel that was made into a film that spent all of maybe two hours in theaters. It is also a novel that was appropriated by SF fandom as either "yet another SF novel not marketed as SF because publishers are afraid of the label" or "yet another mainstream author who just doesn't get it trying to write science fiction". My personal conclusion is - The Road is neither. Perhaps an analogy …
review by . November 18, 2010
Whew! THE ROAD is a draining, exhausting, bleak, gut-wrenching, bleak, fast-paced, bleak novel. Did I mention it was BLEAK?     The book is 279 pages and they fly by. I think I read the book in 4 hours...I could hardly make myself put it down. I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" reading it...but it was thoroughly gripping, as spare and uncompromising a novel as you would ever want to read.     It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, where the sun is never seen …
review by . July 04, 2010
There's something timeless and persistent about the dystopian novel.   Whether it's Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, or Zamyatin's We, stories detailing the consequences of losing all we know and fearing that what we've dreamed will never come to pass are a powerful lure for the popular imagination.  Humans are resilient creatures, and we take a special interest in tales which paint a picture of human fortitude in the face of daunting circumstances, …
review by . July 14, 2010
   A friend loaned me this book just before the movie came out.  He told me that it was gut-wrenching, but I don't think he could have prepared me for just how incredibly bleak this book really is.    Of course I read this book as fiction.  I didn't look for any kind of meaning or try to analyze it very much.  My friend is an English and Philosophy major, so I figure he got away more out of this than I did.   I read this book during the winter.  …
Quick Tip by . October 22, 2010
It will pull you through an emotional wringer, mess you up, wring you out, stomp on you, rewash and rewring ... read it. Understand it is an emotional journey that goes to beautiful extremes.
review by . July 02, 2010
This was probably one of the darkest and potentially depressing books I've ever read, yet the prose is so beautiful that it did not have that effect on me. I found some passages so absolutely beautiful, I had to re-read them several times just to savor them. The story takes place in a dark, burned, post-apocalyptic world and follows the lives of a father and son who are trying to stay alive, find food, and keep moving. Exactly how this apocalypse happened remains untold. Years afterward, the …
review by . June 20, 2010
It's hard to imagine our world devoid of sun, vibrant color, or plants of any kind. Yet The Road does conjur up these almost lifeless images and takes readers on a journey through such a landscape: gray, cold, hard, and wearying.  Life does exist, however, even in an environment as non-supportive as Cormac McCarthy has penned: a father and son.      The father and son are at the heart of this story, and their walk through a bleak, …
review by . September 30, 2010
Pros: Plot, control, authentic father, young son discussions.      Cons: Nothing.      The Bottom Line: Not the McCarthy to start with for a newbie, but a good read all the same.      Edited to correct some embarrassing grammatical mistakes      Imagine after the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven (whose hearing at that point allowed him to play the piano like the master he had always been) wrote a very simple, 4 minute piece …
review by . July 06, 2010
The Road is by no means a happy book, although the companionship and support displayed between a man and young boy is heartfelt and inspiring. With the bleakest outlook on survival and no food, these two are ever running, ever hiding from other's who would steal their provisions.       At times, the simplest can of pears brings more joy to the character's lives than a large sum of money would bring to most people today. The hardships endured by a young boy and the …
About the reviewer
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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The Road is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an unnamed cataclysm that destroyed all civilization and, apparently, most life on earth. The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006.

The Road follows an unnamed father and son journeying together toward the sea for many months across a post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a great, unexplained cataclysm. It is revealed via flashback that the boy's mother, pregnant at the time of the disaster, committed suicide after the birth of her son because of the ultimate certainty of her and her family's death by starvation or at the hands of the roving bands of cannibalistic survivors. She preferred to reclaim some semblance of power by choosing the manner of her death. The man carries a revolver with two bullets meant for protection or suicide in a worst case scenario.

Civilization has been destroyed and it seems that all life except for a dwindling population of human beings is extinct. The sun is obscured by ash and the climate is cold: "hard enough to crack stones." Plants do not grow. As the father and son travel across the landscape, they encounter horrific scenes, including an army of roving cannibals and their catamites and slaves; an infant roasting on a spit; and a basement...

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ISBN-10: 0307265439
ISBN-13: 9780307265432
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Horror, Apocalypse, Science Fiction
Publisher: Knopf, Vintage
Date Published: (September 26, 2006)
Format: Novel
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