Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

The Road – An Experiment in Bleakness

25 Feb

I enjoyed The Road by Cormac McCarthy a lot more than I thought I would. And by enjoyed, I mean I found it fascinating in a sick, addictive way.  I had to read some passages twice because the first time, my brain didn’t quite comprehend just how horrifying they actually were (“Wait, he didn’t mean….Ohhhh.”) I bawled like a baby at the end and nixed plans to see the film that weekend because I needed time to “recover.”

Naturally, I am recommending this book to all my friends.

The Road doesn’t have a particularly complex plot, and it doesn’t even leave you with many strong impressions of its two characters, a man and his son. It’s just got an idea that claws into your brain and won’t let go. McCarthy presents us with a post-disaster world so bleak that it automatically sets itself apart from any other disaster book I’ve ever read. His vision of apocalyptic America is one of all out nuclear winter (although he never really says what happened) – no plants, no animals, barely any sunshine. Just the occasional bit of leftover processed food (and it’s already been a few years, so even those reserves are dwindling), a charred landscape, and a few cannibals along the way.

You know pretty early on that McCarthy isn’t going to give his characters or his readers any easy outs. There’s no silver lining or hope of paradise around the corner. And he does not let us forget it. It’s impressive to see how many different ways there are to say that the view out there is (as he says) “hellishly bleak” and that the weather is (as I say) fricking freezing. The Road’s new guide to the American countryside includes choice phrases such as, “nights dark beyond darkness,” “cold glaucoma dimming away the world,” and “ashen scabland” (and this is just a very small sample).

Despite the aggressive sparseness of McCarthy’s dialogue (“I dont want you to get sick. / I wont get sick. / You havent eaten in a long time. / I know. / Okay.”) and his stingy attitude towards apostrophes, the man’s got a vocabulary under his belt. He’ll write five pages of monosyllables, and then come out with a head-scratcher like “cauterized terrain” or “cold autistic dark.”

This book is special because it makes you completely believe in its version of the future. I’m still obsessing over it weeks later and haunting wikipedia on bedtime topics like “nuclear winter” and “existential risk.” Between this and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and the Canadian government’s disaster survival website (“Is your family prepared?”), I’m just one award-winning dystopian novel away from building a damn shelter.