The Road by Cormac McCarthy

October 1, 2009
Civilization in ashes and cannibals lurking in the fog. Curiosity pulled your interest to this review the same way Cormac McCarthy’s The Road sucks in readers. He tells the story of a man and his son struggling to survive in a lawless post-apocalyptic world. They face the challenges of cannibalism, harsh cold, and hunger. McCarthy captures the gruesome world with such specificity it challenges readers’ stomachs. Every shriveled corpse and severed limb is described with minute details using diction like “dried” and “shrunken” (47). Without a doubt a page-turner, The Road has an unreal ability to compel perpetual reading and it definitely deserved the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

A veteran of the genre, McCarthy has written ten books in the post-apocalyptic/western category. Along with the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, he won the National Book Award in 1992 for his novel All the Pretty Horses. The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious and selective award and The Road is a worthy winner. It evokes critical thinking with its deep message. The father must force himself to make incredibly difficult decisions for the sake of their survival. He has had to shoot a man in the head, abandon pitiful strangers against his son’s will, and even set a man on fire using a flare gun. He is able to do this without hesitation, knowing it is the best for them both despite the lack of ethics. As expected, this Pulitzer winner elicits deep thought unfound in other books.

Cormac McCarthy uses a very unique structure in his novel. He does not always use apostrophes in his contractions, which is definitely a technique puzzling to readers. Also, he never uses quotation marks around the dialogue between characters. Obviously intentional from a Pulitzer Prize winner, this lack of grammar structure is used to emphasize the lawlessness of the world. The same way his book does not follow the rules of grammar, the world his characters live in does not follow the rules of civilization. I am accustomed to reading novels that are divided into chapters, but The Road threw a successful curveball. By not dividing the book into chapters, Cormac McCarthy facilitates the flow of the book. It is only natural for readers to stop reading at the end of a chapter, but the reader is unable to find stopping points in The Road. These methods kept me reading for longer periods of time, because I always wanted to know what would happen next. McCarthy is able to tempt more reading just as you feel you’re about to reach satisfaction.

The author leaves many knots untied in the book. The boy had a dream about how he “had a penguin that you wound up and it would waddle and flap its flippers. And we were in that house that we used to live in and it came around the corner but nobody had wound it up and it was really scary” (36). What did that excerpt mean to you? Chances are your interpretation is different from mine. Of course, the presence of the dream in the book is not a mistake. Rather, McCarthy intentionally wanted the reader to fill in blanks for himself. The author’s strategy gives way to countless different interpretations.
The lack of chapter divisions coupled with the odd scenes provides a compelling page-turner. The reader wants to know how the oddities will be explained, and there are no “end of chapter” sentences telling the reader to put down the book. The book is filled with bizarre happenings that are intentionally unexplained. Like a Beatles song, it seems to poke fun at the way critics overanalyze a work’s content. The same way listeners come up with a variety of meanings to the phrase “Strawberry fields forever,” readers come up with a variety of meanings to penguin dreams. Readers would enjoy the way McCarthy seems to play with their heads.
There are many themes of the book as well. Definitely a very large, if not the most important, theme of the book is a father’s love for his son. As mentioned before, the father must make hard decisions in order to protect himself and his son. He surely would not kill a man without reason. He would not have shot the man with the knife if the man did not assault the boy. McCarthy brings a new meaning to the theme of fatherhood. The boy eventually parts with his father but he could “talk to his father and he did talk to him and he didnt forget” (286). McCarthy was able to strongly emphasize the love between a father and son. Anyone who enjoys themes told with a twist should read this book.
There is something for everyone in Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Road. Whether it’s a craving for the unique or a taste for deep meaning, any thirst will be quenched. The Road is a must read because it appeals to a variety of people and everyone likes a page-turner. Not only does it bring a new style to the table, its loose ends allow a variety of interpretations and it excites the usually bland theme of fatherhood. The Road is a pioneer to its genre and Cormac McCarthy’s best yet.

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