I’m trying to remember the last time I read a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I’m drawing a blank. The truth is, I don’t read much “literary” fiction, and I rarely read books that become the subject of book clubs, discussion groups, or literary canon. I’m a genre fiction reader, and those books don’t typically lend themselves to heavy discussions.
The Road caught my attention because it reminded me of a lot of the horror/science fiction books I’ve read, due to its post-apocalyptic setting. I believe it was Poe who noted that the most interesting stories came from characters who were put up against the most challenging situations, and who had to test their own nature over the course of the story’s events. The Road places its characters in those sorts of situations, forcing them to come to terms with themselves in ways they never imagined before.
The story (if you’ve somehow missed out on the summary by now) is about a man and his son, walking the roads to the south in an effort to find a warmer place to survive after the world has burned and lost most of its traces of humanity. This is the source material for most post-apocalyptic novels, but this one is more powerful and effective, in part because it’s being written by a talented, lyrical author. The Stand and Swan Song are both stories with theme and depth, but comparing them to The Road is like comparing Metallica with Tool; they’re both in the same general ballpark, but the differences between the talent are tremendous.
Cormac McCarthy is a poetic writer, and his narrative lulls you into a sense of complacency, because his gift for words draws you in to the story. You want to keep reading, partly because you want to remain exposed to his narrative to see what he has to tell you next. The fact that the story is told in a stripped-down, bare-bones style has little to no impact on the power of his words. The rub lies in the gentle, mesmerizing way he tells the story, contrasted sharply with the harsh, brutal nature of his story. The world of The Road is one that has been stripped of humanity, both through its population and through its nature. The main characters are “the good guys,” but you won’t always agree with their approach to survival. Sometimes, the characters can’t agree with it, either.
This is a powerful, effective book, and is deserving of its praise. You really should read this book. It won’t become a “favorite,” I don’t think, because of its nature. It’s not a book that begs being re-read, much in the way that you won’t find yourself watching and re-watching Schindler’s List like you might watch a Disney movie. The book will drain you, and touch you, but revisiting the world of the book may not be high on your list of priorities.
Read it. Discuss it. You owe it to yourself to do so.