Though he may have shuffled into the mainstream consciousness only recently for the film adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy has been penning novels for years. Anyway, don’t let the Oprah Book Club stickers scare you off—McCarthy is one of the most important contemporary fiction writers, and he’s worth taking a look at.
The Road, McCarthy’s 2006 effort, earned him a Pulitzer. The novel explores a blistered post-apocalyptic American wasteland and two characters struggling to survive in the wake of an unspoken cataclysm. McCarthy wisely eschews the details of the disaster and lets the characters take precedence. The protagonists, a father-son duo, also remain unnamed. Dialogue between the two is as bleak as the landscape—they mutter only a few phrases at a time. Their only motivation is survival. They trek south in slim hopes of reaching the coast and its warmer climes. Weathered by perpetual rainstorms and severe cold, they plod through town to town through the charred American wasteland in search of meager food rations. Nothing grows in the ruined countryside. No wild animals stir in the wilderness. The sun will likely never shine again in either of their lifetimes. McCarthy’s true prowess rests in his ability to fully immerse the reader in his ruined landscapes with only sparse descriptions. We feel the cold when freezing black rain drives the man and his boy under their plastic tarp. We feel the terror when they encounter roving bands of cannibals, and it makes us appreciate what we take for granted on a daily basis, if only for a short time.
If McCarthy’s novel possesses a weakness, it lies in the narrative’s sheer predictability. Most likely, readers will never be surprised by anything the selfless father character does or says. He tells his son that they’re the “good guys,” and save for a few ancillary moral crossroads, these two are never in danger of turning astray. Consequently, many will be able to predict the ending after the first few paragraphs. While this leaves me somewhat disappointed, I’m also grateful that McCarthy doesn’t attempt any corny plot twists. His narrative emerges as a sobering and strikingly realistic experiment in post-apocalyptic survival and human willpower. — Kilgore Trout
Amazon: Cormac McCarthy – The Road