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MK's Reading Life

Lifelong passionate reader. Mysteries, Fantasy, and Non-Fiction of various sorts. Currently reading a fair amount focused on WWI and the interwar years. (I have no idea why.)


Are you kidding me?

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Sometimes you read a "great" or critically acclaimed book and all you can think is "What?!?! WHY?" This is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I have no idea why. I will admit I was skeptical from the first. This is not my first post-apocalyptic book, movie or video game. And my response to the promos for the movie, was "Not again." But it is always unfair to judge a book by its movie, and there was that Pulitzer, so I thought I'd give it a go.


OK, the writing is excellent. The actual sentences, quite lovely. Think Faulkner or Hemmingway. It was that and the shortness of the book that kept me going. I may consider reading something else McCarthy has written.


But the story he puts together with those sentences is bleak, unoriginal and often just silly.


The world has ended in some unspecified all encompassing cataclysm 5-8 years before the events of the book. This is not the end of civilization or life as we know it, this is the end of life on earth. There are no living plants or animals. Not just on land, the oceans are dead as well. Not even the fungi seem to have survived. This is an all but complete sterilization of the planet. Except for people. People survived in great numbers, at least for a little while. No roaches or rats, but human beings made it. This is patently ridiculous.


How are people surviving? Scavenging. There are a few, mainly solitary, good guys and bands of evil, viscious, raiding cannibals. Wait? Have you heard this one before?


The good guys in this book are a man and his son. They are walking to the ocean for no reason whatsoever. They had to leave where they were, because they couldn't survive there any longer. OK, I can buy that, but why the ocean? Good a place as any, maybe, but they have to cross mountains in winter to do it. If the guy is that stupid, how did he survive this long? They have to scavenge food along the way and find mainly pork and beans, and canned peaches and pears. What is it with pork and beans and the apocalypse? Five to eight years after the end of the world peaches, pears and pork and beans are going to be long gone. Maybe you'd find sardines, artichoke hearts and a fair amount of salad dressing. The shoes are all gone, but not the canned pears. Please.


Even if your post-apocalyptica only goes back as far as Road Warrior, (instead of say, On the Beach) you seen this all before.  And if you've thought about it at all, you know how hopeless the future is if people are only surviving on the scavenged remnants. A future requires production of food and other basic necessities.


The man is an idiot. He walks away from a well stocked and reasonably well hidden bunker to continue on his pointless quest to get to the ocean, when he could have at least waited out the winter. He talks about being one of the good guys and keeping the fire alive, but he avoids other people if he can help it at all, and leaves those he can't avoid worse off than he found them. The kid wants to be with other people and help them. The innocent child who retains his humanity. If the kid is supposed to be the moral center, it would have been nice to get beyond the cliche.


McCarthy has created a world of utter futility and hopelessness. No plants=no life. The world is pushed well past the breaking point, but that never really gets faced. The boy's mother, in what seems to be a perfectly rational answer, kills herself before the story begins. The man survives for his son.  Until he can't. The boy gets to live a little while longer with people who might actually be nice. Bleak, bleak, bleak, tagged on happy ending.


In summary, all the usual, and often silly, tropes of the genre wrapped in well written prose. No character really faces death, or much of life, nor is the world redeemed.