Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I was going to wait until I was in healthy, vigorous review mode before I passed judgment on Cormac McCarthy's most popular novel to date: The Road. Plenty of fine ink has already been spilled, puzzlin' over "what does it all mean?" If that's what you want, I refer you to Phil Christman, James Wood and Jennifer Egan. With me, you get the bedside book review.

I thought it was complete bollocks — the very first McCarthy novel to actually annoy me. After practicing with smaller skirmishes and more containable Hells, McCarthy rolls up his sleeves and finally presents two protagonists (a father & son) who have witnessed and survived The Actual Honest-To-God Apocalypse! For reasons unclear to me, McCarthy abandons his Antique Apocalypse writin' style in favour of an austere minimalism more in line with Hemingway. This has the unfortunate effect of putting McCarthy's forced plot contrivances into the sharpest relief. The father and son have "the fire" — an inner moral light — and absolutely none of the other survivors share it. Instead we get wandering hordes of zombie-like people whose greatest joy in life is roasting babies on a spit.

Some conceits are better than others, and this one is downright threadbare. McCarthy is better when everyone in his story is confused and cruel.


Cowtown Pattie said...

By george, I think you've nailed what I couldn't put my own ball-peen on (as my mother always calls 'em "ball ping")

McCarthy has bought into his own fame with "The Road". Since when did he need to conk us over the head with in-your-face shock jock antics?

Everyone loses when someone like McCarthy goes "hollywood".

Still, the book certainly gave me a nightmare or two. As a school child of the 60's, I remember being terrified during our duck and cover drills (those dirty Russians/Cubans/black-hat wearers can't hurt us when we are all nicely lined up in the hallway tucked head to butt with our hands folded over our heads doncha know) that I wouldn't be able to find my mother should the "big one" actually happen. The fear would knot up in my stomach and I would have a mini panic attack complete with a few tears.

"The Road" brought back that childhood fear quite nicely.

Jim said...

Hey, you know I love you two, but you could not be more wrong about The Road.

I'll leave it at that since I'm not about to troll as fine a writer as you Whisky, and that goes for CP too.

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - it was effectively nightmarish. I'm not sure if McCarthy is the first to paint a post-catastrophe world in which a few grizzly humans are the only animal life left alive, but he was certainly was convincing in his portrait. Very sad, and very cold.

jim - no sweat, man. You've got plenty of company in your team.

DarkoV said...

What a reading fiend. WP, you're shedding a new light for me on book reviewers. I could never figure out how they read so many books and then spent oodles of time writing about them. What possessed them?

Well, it seems the answer is a high fever, bedsores, and put-off medical care. If I happen to bump into any book reviewers in public, I'll be sure to spray myself with Lysol....unless, of course, I want to read 10 books in 10 days.

Hope you're feeling better and, yes, I've been enjoying your reviews immensely. You've got an inner curmudgeon that's been delightful to see.

DarkoV said...

Dear Reviewer Sir,
I'm tempted, but not enough, to pick up Michael Ondaatje's latest, Divisadero. Other less renowned reviewers like the NYT and thePittsburgh Post-Gazette insinuate that a once through is insufficient. It will take multiple readings, perhaps even reading it backwards, at least once, to fully comprehend the story, the craft, the essence of the book.

I was wondering....since you sound as if you're still laid up, are you considering reading (and re-reading) and reviewing this book?

Just wondering, before I put my very devaluated American dollars down for this new tome. Thanks

Whisky Prajer said...

I won't be buying or reading it. I think In The Skin Of A Lion is probably Ondaatje's best novel. After that, his fiction becomes increasingly refractive. He's said he's impatient with how little "growth" there's been in the modern novel, which is a sentiment that generally arouses my suspicion for M. Blowhardian reasons. Ondaatje writes evocatively enough to keep a reader charmed, but I think what I typically want from a novelist is a point of view I can argue with, and Ondaatje's approach is too amorphous for argument.