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Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
McCarthy's latest novel, a frightening apocalyptic vision, is narrated by a nameless man, one of the few survivors of an unspecified civilization-ending catastrophe. He and his young son are trekking along a treacherous highway, starving and freezing, trying to avoid roving cannibal armies. The tale, and their lives, are saved from teetering over the edge of bleakness thanks to the man's fierce belief that they are "the good guys" who are preserving the light of humanity. In this stark, effective production, Stechschulte gives the father an appropriately harsh, weary voice that sways little from its numbed register except to urge on the weakening boy or soothe his fears after an encounter with barbarians. When they uncover some vestige of the former world, the man recalls its vanished wonder with an aching nostalgia that makes the listener's heart swell. Stechschulte portrays the son with a mournful, slightly breathy tone that emphasizes the child's whininess, making him much less sympathetic than his resourceful father. With no music or effects interrupting Stechschulte's carefully measured pace and gruff, straightforward delivery, McCarthy's darkly poetic prose comes alive in a way that will transfix listeners. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, July 24). (Oct.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"Vivid, eloquent . . . The Road is the most readable of [McCarthy's] works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization." —The New York Times Book Review
"One of McCarthy's best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal." —Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Illuminated by extraordinary tenderness. . . . Simple yet mysterious, simultaneously cryptic and crystal clear. The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be." —The New York Times
"No American writer since Faulkner has wandered so willingly into the swamp waters of deviltry and redemption. . . . [McCarthy] has written this last waltz with enough elegant reserve to capture what matters most." —The Boston Globe
"There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull . . . making [The Road] easily one of the most harrowing books you'll ever encounter. . . . Once opened, [it is] nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive. . . . The Road is a deeply imagined work and harrowing no matter what your politics." —Bookforum
"We find this violent, grotesque world rendered in gorgeous, melancholic, even biblical cadences. . . . Few books can do more; few have done better. Read this book." —Rocky Mountain News
"A dark book that glows with the intensity of [McCarthy's] huge gift for language. . . . Why read this? . . . Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness." —Chicago Tribune
"The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written."
—The Christian Science Monitor
"The Road is a wildly powerful and disturbing book that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster has never felt more physically and spiritually real." —Time
"The Road is the logical culmination of everything [McCarthy]'s written." —Newsweek
"It's hard to think of [an apocalypse tale] as beautifully, hauntingly constructed as this one. McCarthy possesses a massive, Biblical vocabulary and he unleashes it in this book with painterly effect. . . . The Road takes him to a whole new level. . . . It will grip even the coldest human heart." —The Star-Ledger (Newark)
"McCarthy is a gutsy, powerful storyteller. . . . The writing throughout is magnificent." —Chicago Sun-Times
"Devastating. . . . McCarthy has never seemed more at home, more eloquent, than in the sere, postapocalyptic ash land of The Road. . . . Extraordinarily lovely and sad. . . . [A] masterpiece." —Entertainment Weekly
"His most compelling, moving and accessible novel since All the Pretty Horses. . . . McCarthy brilliantly captures the knife edge that fugitives in a hostile world stand on. . . . Amid this Godot-like bleakness, McCarthy shares something vital and enduring about the boy's spirit, his father's love and the nature of bravery itself." —USA Today
With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasnt sure. He hadnt kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There'd be no surviving another winter here.
When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.
When he got back the boy was still asleep. He pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal cakes in a plastic bag and a plastic bottle of syrup. He spread the small tarp they used for a table on the ground and laid everything out and he took the pistol from his belt and laid it on the cloth and then he just sat watching the boy sleep. He'd pulled away his mask in the night and it was buried somewhere in the blankets. He watched the boy and he looked out through the trees toward the road. This was not a safe place. They could be seen from the road now it was day. The boy turned in the blankets. Then he opened his eyes. Hi, Papa, he said.
I'm right here.
An hour later they were on the road. He pushed the cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things. In case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the road behind them. He shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still gray serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? he said. The boy nodded. Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.
They crossed the river by an old concrete bridge and a few miles on they came upon a roadside gas station. They stood in the road and studied it. I think we should check it out, the man said. Take a look. The weeds they forded fell to dust about them. They crossed the broken asphalt apron and found the tank for the pumps. The cap was gone and the man dropped to his elbows to smell the pipe but the odor of gas was only a rumor, faint and stale. He stood and looked over the building. The pumps standing with their hoses oddly still in place. The windows intact. The door to the service bay was open and he went in. A standing metal toolbox against one wall. He went through the drawers but there was nothing there that he could use. Good half-inch drive sockets. A ratchet. He stood looking around the garage. A metal barrel full of trash. He went into the office. Dust and ash everywhere. The boy stood in the door. A metal desk, a cashregister. Some old automotive manuals, swollen and sodden. The linoleum was stained and curling from the leaking roof. He crossed to the desk and stood there. Then he picked up the phone and dialed the number of his father's house in that long ago. The boy watched him. What are you doing? he said.
A quarter mile down the road he stopped and looked back. We're not thinking, he said. We have to go back. He pushed the cart off the road and tilted it over where it could not be seen and they left their packs and went back to the station. In the service bay he dragged out the steel trashdrum and tipped it over and pawed out all the quart plastic oilbottles. Then they sat in the floor decanting them of their dregs one by one, leaving the bottles to stand upside down draining into a pan until at the end they had almost a half quart of motor oil. He screwed down the plastic cap and wiped the bottle off with a rag and hefted it in his hand. Oil for their little slutlamp to light the long gray dusks, the long gray dawns. You can read me a story, the boy said. Cant you, Papa? Yes, he said. I can.
. . .
On the far side of the river valley the road passed through a stark black burn. Charred and limbless trunks of trees stretching away on every side. Ash moving over the road and the sagging hands of blind wire strung from the blackened lightpoles whining thinly in the wind. A burned house in a clearing and beyond that a reach of meadowlands stark and gray and a raw red mudbank where a roadworks lay abandoned. Farther along were billboards advertising motels. Everything as it once had been save faded and weathered. At the top of the hill they stood in the cold and the wind, getting their breath. He looked at the boy. I'm all right, the boy said. The man put his hand on his shoulder and nodded toward the open country below them. He got the binoculars out of the cart and stood in the road and glassed the plain down there where the shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste. Nothing to see. No smoke. Can I see? the boy said. Yes. Of course you can. The boy leaned on the cart and adjusted the wheel. What do you see? the man said. Nothing. He lowered the glasses. It's raining. Yes, the man said. I know.
They left the cart in a gully covered with the tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing trees to where he'd seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the woods.
When it had cleared they went down to the cart and pulled away the tarp and got their blankets and the things they would need for the night. They went back up the hill and made their camp in the dry dirt under the rocks and the man sat with his arms around the boy trying to warm him. Wrapped in the blankets, watching the nameless dark come to enshroud them. The gray shape of the city vanished in the night's onset like an apparition and he lit the little lamp and set it back out of the wind. Then they walked out to the road and he took the boy's hand and they went to the top of the hill where the road crested and where they could see out over the darkening country to the south, standing there in the wind, wrapped in their blankets, watching for any sign of a fire or a lamp. There was nothing. The lamp in the rocks on the side of the hill was little more than a mote of light and after a while they walked back. Everything too wet to make a fire. They ate their poor meal cold and lay down in their bedding with the lamp between them. He'd brought the boy's book but the boy was too tired for reading. Can we leave the lamp on till I'm asleep? he said. Yes. Of course we can.
He was a long time going to sleep. After a while he turned and looked at the man. His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old world thespian. Can I ask you something? he said.
Yes. Of course.
Are we going to die?
Sometime. Not now.
And we're still going south.
So we'll be warm.
Nothing. Just okay.
Go to sleep.
I'm going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay?
Yes. That's okay.
And then later in the darkness: Can I ask you something?
Yes. Of course you can.
What would you do if I died?
If you died I would want to die too.
So you could be with me?
Yes. So I could be with you.
He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.
He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.
They passed through the city at noon of the day following. He kept the pistol to hand on the folded tarp on top of the cart. He kept the boy close to his side. The city was mostly burned. No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil tracks in the dried sludge. A corpse in a doorway dried to leather. Grimacing at the day. He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, dont you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
There was a lake a mile from his uncle's farm where he and his uncle used to go in the fall for firewood. He sat in the back of the rowboat trailing his hand in the cold wake while his uncle bent to the oars. The old man's feet in their black kid shoes braced against the uprights. His straw hat. His cob pipe in his teeth and a thin drool swinging from the pipebowl. He turned to take a sight on the far shore, cradling the oarhandles, taking the pipe from his mouth to wipe his chin with the back of his hand. The shore was lined with birchtrees that stood bone pale against the dark of the evergreens beyond. The edge of the lake a riprap of twisted stumps, gray and weathered, the windfall trees of a hurricane years past. The trees themselves had long been sawed for firewood and carried away. His uncle turned the boat and shipped the oars and they drifted over the sandy shallows until the transom grated in the sand. A dead perch lolling belly up in the clear water. Yellow leaves. They left their shoes on the warm painted boards and dragged the boat up onto the beach and set out the anchor at the end of its rope. A lardcan poured with concrete with an eyebolt in the center. They walked along the shore while his uncle studied the treestumps, puffing at his pipe, a manila rope coiled over his shoulder. He picked one out and they turned it over, using the roots for leverage, until they got it half floating in the water. Trousers rolled to the knee but still they got wet. They tied the rope to a cleat at the rear of the boat and rowed back across the lake, jerking the stump slowly behind them. By then it was already evening. Just the slow periodic rack and shuffle of the oarlocks. The lake dark glass and windowlights coming on along the shore. A radio somewhere. Neither of them had spoken a word. This was the perfect day of his childhood. This the day to shape the days upon.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Q: You must have thought that was pretty lucky- being a fan of the author and everything then having this unpublished manuscript come your way-
J: He knew that in some ways with The Proposition, in terms of it being creating a world of- where the landscape and the conditions are very harsh in this brutal sort of world and it was all location driven - it would appeal to me as well as the actual material. When I first read it, it had such a powerful, emotional impact, and I just couldn't get it out of my head, and I knew it had to be done and that I had to make it somehow.
Q: And had you always thought of Viggo to play the man or how did that come about?
J: Yeah. That was way back when - even writing the script - it was really tricky - there was a small group of about three actors that I was thinking about. And it became clear that Viggo had the qualities of someone that could be an everyman but also could have the intensity that that role demands and the kind of physicalness of the role as well. And just the versatility 'cause it's a range of emotions that that character goes through. I had in my mind people like Gregory Peck and actors just from another time that had this kind of strength to them and yet also a vulnerability. It's very hard to find people that have a kind of a rawness, and Viggo's very intense and very wound up, and that is what the father is all about 'cause he's so wound up and so haunted by the suicide of his loved one - his wife and partner - and yet the incredible ongoing relationship with his son and being so protective. It is a love story, and it's being sensitive and vulnerable and yet it's such a challenging and extreme survival world that he has to do things that have to be credible - where certain actors it might be a stretch that they're so tender and sensitive to a child and yet can physically do what he has to do.
Q: I think it was you who said if anyone could survive in a post-apocalyptic world it would probably be Viggo.
J: Yes, and Guy Pearce, who's the veteran. They're the survivors and 'cause the film's all about survivor and there is something that Viggo has about him that is credible that he could survive extreme circumstances. And sure enough you've seen him dive into an absolutely treacherous, freezing ocean that no one is supposed to go near and endure all sorts of stuff. So, he's clearly capable of that.
Q: You've also assembled an amazing cast in the supporting roles. Do you want to talk a little about the casting? Did you immediately think of Guy for the veteran?
J: My problem was I couldn't think of anyone but Guy as the veteran and we were just very fortunate (he was in the middle of another film) that we were able to get him. I'm really thrilled with the cast that we managed to get and the variety of different characters. I was very specific about what we were trying to find in the different characters but also to get the variety of say Michael K. Williams brought a great kind of more urban, street thing, whereas Dillahunt - Garrett Dillahunt - we deliberately got a more country, hick, backwater type going on cause we wanted to get that feeling that there are all these people wandering around this new world fighting for survival and get that mixture of personalities and Guy certainly - like Viggo - has some similar qualities in that you can imagine him surviving. And Molly Parker was just great for the ending - a very difficult role to pull off 'cause she ends the film really with Kodi. Really for them the challenge was - in a fairly short time screen time - to give you a sense of where they've come from and the kind of emotional damage that they've all endured. Of course, Robert Duvall for the old man was extraordinary as well. He knows Cormac McCarthy, he's so familiar with that world - that was really helpful - and he did something that was quite extraordinary under extreme pressure because our first day we were plagued by weather problems and the weather problem was simply a day like this where the sun's out and the sun was our enemy. That's been a running joke throughout the whole film that when it's actually beautiful weather that most people love we all get depressed, and when it's miserable we all get excited and run out into it. That happened with Robert, we had this bright, sunny day that just was just a disaster for the landscape we were in where there's a huge coal ash pile of remnants of mining debris and scarred kind of landscape. We ended up really being pressurized for time, but he, within a couple of takes - we talked about trying something where he would bring an extra bit of history to the character in terms of that pain and damage because this guy's old - everyone's wondering how the hell did he survive and where did he come from, and he's very enigmatic sort of character. Really reminded me of a sort of Samuel Beckett type character. And he came up with the most extraordinary sort of bit of improvisation in the middle of the scene that was just heartbreaking and helped shape the scene in a very quick time. That was great. It was hard to work under those sort of conditions and when you have actors with that kind of wealth of experience, you kind of wish you had more time to do stuff. But he rose to challenge and beyond.
Q: How did you work with Cormac? Do you want to talk a little bit about working with Cormac? It was a log on the fire wasn't it when you actually-
J: I deliberately didn't really have conversations with him until Joe and I were happy with the script, and Nick. And those conversations came after. We wanted to feel comfortable and crack it ourselves and then see what comes out of- and he is just an amazing man and very sharp and understands that they're totally different mediums, so he has no problem with the fact- I'd mention some things that we did change and he was saying, "It's your film. You know, it's film. It's something else," and "Don't worry about it," and he ended up being very happy with what we were doing and our approach and very interested in what we were doing. But at the same time he was never over anything saying, "Oh, don't know about that," so I think he just sees it very much as separate mediums, which they are.
Q: Did you speak to him during the shoot?
J: I spoke to him in pre-production and during the shoot, updating him, and I kept trying to get certain things out of - there were certain things that he wouldn't really reveal because he thought they're best to be left interpreted how you want to interpret them. Some things he got specific about and then a lot of other things that were left very open in the book - open to interpretation, he wanted left that way because he didn't want to lead us in that sense. We were very fortunate that he came up for a while with his son, just seeing them together it all kind of made sense. And his son was calling him "Papa" just like in the book and, as he said, his son John wrote half the book, as in they share- that's where half of it comes from. It was really great to see that.
Q: Was that the first time you've met him?
J: Yes. But I just kind of knew from the first long conversation that we had back in pre-production that he was very smart and actually quite open, very polite and respectful, and a gentleman - a Southern gentleman.
Q: What was his reaction when you saw him - to the film and to what he was seeing?
J: He seemed to love what he was seeing. I think he got quite emotional when we showed him some of the meatier emotional scenes between Kodi (the boy) and Viggo, when the father dies. That material. He seemed very pleased, very moved, and that was lovely. I think he was very pleased that we went the location - like finding dramatic, interesting, extreme locations as opposed to just a kind of CGI film.
Q: Do you want to talk a little bit about the casting of Charlize for the role of the woman?
J: Well that was the other thing about the woman in the book- we wanted to really try and enrich that character and present her argument for making that choice as very sound because in the book it's very abrasive and harsh. And it is, and we still will do that, but what is great about Charlize is we wanted to try to find someone that had a real kind of gravitas, emotional kind of depth to again showing that transition of life from the world that we're all, well some of us, the privileged few in fact are accustomed to and take for granted, and then having that all stripped away and the emotional damage and her refusal to accept the new world is a huge emotional shift. She's someone that has already shown incredible range, and her transformation in Monster was pretty astounding. She seems to be one of those actresses that really is able to transform and go to real emotional depths.
Q: And do you just want to talk a bit about Michael, the thief?
J: Oh yes, Michael K. Williams- 'cause I love The Wire. That's one of my favorite TV shows. He was great in that, and again, it was great, like with Robert Duvall, to have him do something in a very different context and this world that they're in and these characters that they're playing and the situation is so extreme that he's in and he was so fearless about it - what he has to do in that scene. And just very truthful in what he does, and I think he's one of those actors that just gonna keep surprising people. And that scene was incredible - what he did. He really thought carefully about the voice, the whole, again he's very detailed and fearless and that was just great, and he really trusted me which was really great too- for him to go into a role like that, that is literally and metaphorically totally, again, goes from having something and losing absolutely everything in a very short time. To see that all play out was just great, and he was just great to work with.
Q: And just finally- just again, what was the main part of the story of The Road that really drew you in or wanted you to make this film?
J: Firstly, it was the power of the center of the story, of the father and son, and the emotional impact that that made on me and seems to have on many people, and then also that world being so immediate and refreshing. What I love about Cormac McCarthy is the sort of depths of humanity he's so unflinching in exploring and not shying away from, just how scary we really are and how we're our own and the entire planet's worst enemy and always have been and always will be. And yet - what is extraordinary about the book that isn't in the other books is that incredible emotional richness and tenderness. And the world, the challenge of trying to- what I loved about the book as well was there was no discussion or build up of actually what happened. You don't even know what happened, and I just loved that about the book. There was so much that was left unsaid in the way it should be left unsaid because if a disaster of that scale, whether it's nuclear or a comet or whichever way it goes, any disaster on that scale would immediately from that day on it would be irrelevant about exactly what happened and what caused it. You're purely from that day on fighting to cope with the radical change, and the way he kept that on a knife I thought was original and quite haunting and disturbing 'cause it felt real and it felt particularly relevant and particularly real for these times.
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of The Road, the tender, harrowing new novel of unfailing hope amid epic devastation by acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy.
Set in the smoking ashes of a postapocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy's The Road tells the story of a man and his son's journey toward the sea and an uncertain salvation. The world they pass through is a ghastly vision of scorched countryside and blasted cities "held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell" [p. 181]. It is a starved world, all plant and animal life dead or dying, some of the few human survivors even eating each other alive.
The father and son move through the ruins searching for food and shelter, trying to keep safe from murderous, roving bands. They have only a pistol to defend themselves, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food--and each other.
Awesome in the totality of its vision, The Road is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
1. Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the writing in The Road in some ways more like poetry than narrative prose?
2. Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?
3. How is McCarthy able to make the postapocalyptic world of The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying? Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who inhabit it?
4. McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash? What is implied by the father's statement that "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world" [p. 32]?
5. As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real, the father says, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" [p. 279]. What is this fire? Why is it so crucial that they not let it die?
6. McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic world in which "murder was everywhere upon the land" and the earth would soon be "largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes" [p. 181]. How difficult or easy is it to imagine McCarthy's nightmare vision actually happening? Do you think people would likely behave as they do in the novel, under the same circumstances? Does it now seem that human civilization is headed toward such an end?
7. The man and the boy think of themselves as the "good guys." In what ways are they like and unlike the "bad guys" they encounter? What do you think McCarthy is suggesting in the scenes in which the boy begs his father to be merciful to the strangers they encounter on the road? How is the boy able to retain his compassion--to be, as one reviewer put it, "compassion incarnate"?
8. The sardonic blind man named Ely who the man and boy encounter on the road tells the father that "There is no God and we are his prophets" [p. 170]. What does he mean by this? Why does the father say about his son, later in the same conversation, "What if I said that he's a god?" [p. 172] Are we meant to see the son as a savior?
9. The Road takes the form of a classic journey story, a form that dates back to Homer's Odyssey. To what destination are the man and the boy journeying? In what sense are they "pilgrims"? What, if any, is the symbolic significance of their journey?
10. McCarthy's work often dramatizes the opposition between good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphant. What does The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil? Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?
11. What makes the relationship between the boy and his father so powerful and poignant? What do they feel for each other? How do they maintain their affection for and faith in each other in such brutal conditions?
12. Why do you think McCarthy ends the novel with the image of trout in mountain streams before the end of the world: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery" [p. 287]. What is surprising about this ending? Does it provide closure, or does it prompt a rethinking of all that has come before? What does it suggest about what lies ahead?
Suggestions for further reading
Robert Adams, Horseclans; Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake; David Brin, The Postman; Philip K. Dick, The Penultimate Truth; William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying; Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence; P.D. James, The Children of Men; Louise Laurence, Children of the Dust.
About the author
Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island. He attended the University of Tennessee in the early 1950s, and joined the U.S. Air Force, serving four years, two of them stationed in Alaska. McCarthy then returned to the university, where he published in the student literary magazine and won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960. McCarthy next went to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel, The Orchard Keeper.
The Orchard Keeper was published by Random House in 1965; McCarthy's editor there was Albert Erskine, William Faulkner's long-time editor. Before publication, McCarthy received a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he used to travel to Ireland. In 1966 he also received the Rockefeller Foundation Grant, with which he continued to tour Europe, settling on the island of Ibiza. Here, McCarthy completed revisions of his next novel, Outer Dark.
In 1967, McCarthy returned to the United States, moving to Tennessee. Outer Dark was published by Random House in 1968, and McCarthy received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1969. His next novel, Child of God, was published in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, McCarthy worked on the screenplay for a PBS film called The Gardener's Son, which premiered in 1977. A revised version of the screenplay was later published by Ecco Press.
In the late 1970s, McCarthy moved to Texas, and in 1979 published his fourth novel, Suttree, a book that had occupied his writing life on and off for twenty years. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, and published his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, in 1985.
After the retirement of Albert Erskine, McCarthy moved from Random House to Alfred A. Knopf. All the Pretty Horses, the first volume of The Border Trilogy, was published by Knopf in 1992. It won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was later turned into a feature film. The Stonemason, a play that McCarthy had written in the mid-1970s and subsequently revised, was published by Ecco Press in 1994. Soon thereafter, Knopf released the second volume of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing; the third volume, Cities of the Plain, was published in 1998.
McCarthy's next novel, No Country for Old Men was published in 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a novel in dramatic form, The Sunset Limited, originally performed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and published in paperback by Vintage Books. McCarthy's most recent novel, The Road, was also published by Knopf in 2006.
Posted March 20, 2010
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I know it's fashionable to love The Road. McCarthy is a high-brow writer of "literature". The gorgeous Viggo Mortensen and the stunning Charlize Theron are starring in the big-budget film. Big critics like the New York Times love The Road. But maybe he's not well read in the Horror and Sci-Fi genre. (Fancy critics eschew genre. It's not chic.) But if they would occassionally lower themselves to read genre, they'd realize The Road is nothing new or special. The shelves are full of much better post-apocalyptic stories. The People of Sparks by DuPrau, The Postman by Brin, Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle. Just a few off the top of my head. The lone plot point of The Road is that things are pretty darn rough after the collapse of civilization. That's it. After McCarthy establishes his one point, he's done. The rest of the novel is simply driving this one point home over and over again ad nauseum. Except for grim descriptions of just how hard it is to survive.... the reader doesn't really learn anything else. If the idea of the end of the world fascinates you, try World War Z by Max Brooks. - - Mary Tills, Barnes and Noble, Frederick, Maryland.
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Posted December 17, 2009
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McCarthy deliberately avoids telling you exactly what happened to the world. He gives you enough subtle clues to force you to create your own End-of-The-World scenario and by doing so, provides your entry fee into this world. Something bad happened to the planet, that's for sure. Hope has died a quick death, replaced with enough despair to make one weep. The world here is covered with ash that continues to fall like the rain and snow that only punishes the survivors. Nature has turned as ugly and unforgiving as the scavengers that roam the roads and countryside.
The man and his son, the boy, again deliberately unnamed throughout the story, have only each other and their meager but precious belongings that they drag through their world in backpacks and a tired shopping cart. We are privy to the flashbacks of the man, who remembers the wife and mother only as "the woman" and was pregnant with the boy when the world began its decay. Thus we learn that their world has been dying for years and the survivors now live on the rare bits of its offerings; a can of soda here, some dried apples there. They are freezing and wet always; every little fire to warm them and dry their clothing is a pitiful thing, despite the flames that trail at the edges of the scenery like a beast forever stalking them. Hunger is the shadow that clings to them by day; at night the cold becomes an embrace.
A perfect antithesis of Huck Finn's river, the Road here is full of death and dangerous even to be near. Yet it is The Road that the man and boy cling to, hoping to find their way south and avoid freezing to death even as it turns colder. There are plenty of macabre and gruesome scenes along the way to reveal how bands of survivors have turned to cannibalism, torture, and murder just to feed themselves. There are no animals here anymore; Along the road, a dog's bark is as startling as a running motor.
This book is god-awful in its brilliance, full of despair and sadness. Hope is the finding of clean water or another scrap of food on which to survive yet one more day. The man's only meaningful existence is to protect and nurture the boy, yet he must live every day with the knowledge that he must end the boy's life rather than see him captured by the "bad people." His love for the boy is the only real fire that burns in this world. It is this fire that he commands the boy to carry onward.
Cormac McCarthy has offered us a glimpse at a world that will have no heroes, no brilliant plan to save mankind, no Bruce Willis to the rescue. The man is weak at times and has his share of flaws; you also cannot help but share his joy in the small victories and in the moments when he gains whatever precious morsel or scrap of warmth he can for the boy. This is a world fit only for the telling of one person's struggle to find some meaning in it.
You should not travel this road without some fire of your own.
33 out of 39 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Im an not an avid reader, but I thought this book would offer a good Saturday night read. It started out really grasping my attention. But then, 300 pages later, I didn't seem to know any more than I did in the first 50 pages. Yes, the book built a story around a father's love and commitment to his son, but even that was played out very weak. I needed to know more; why the world was the way it was, more about the mother, more interaction with other characters. Everything the two characters experienced just seemed senseless. Not a lot of depth to the plot. I think the author could have done a lot more with this book and created a great read.
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The dark side of fiction is here in this interesting story. I really enjoyed reading it. Though I had to read this story as a reading assignment, I am glad I did. This fictional drama will stay with me forever. I highly recommend this story to anyone.
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Posted November 15, 2009
This was one of those literary works that I really didn't WANT to read but did beccause it was a Pulitzer winner - so often we get in a rut of reading just the genres that appeal to us most. Boy, was I glad I "branched out" with this one. I couldn't put it down and it stayed with me for days after I finished. While it's not exactly entertaining, it was a MUST read for everyone who appreciates characters with depth and a plot that will make you look inward. WONDERFUL book that I'm certain I'll read again in a few years and appreciate it just as much.
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Posted April 30, 2009
Usually I am not a big reader of books and usually wait to see the movie first. I read this book as a English 12 assignment, and I could not get enough of this book. Cormac McCarthy is an amazing author; I can't wait to read his other work. McCarthy doesn't confuse you with many names, but instead uses "man" and "boy" as his main characters. While reading this book you can vividly picture what was going on with the characters. Even though this book is based on an untold tragedy, it makes the book an amazing story of a father and son. If you ever want to sit down and read a great book then "The Road" is you're best choice, guaranteed.
14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Cormac McCarthy's The Road speaks to the hopeful part of all humans; the part that whispers to us that we are not alone, that even in the bleakest of times, there is possibility and promise.
Some see this book as a warning of a fast approaching post-apocalyptic time when all life as we know it will be turned topsy turvy and basic human kindness will be swept away as pockets of people strive to survive. And, I suppose, The Road could be described as such, but as the famed glass half empty or half full discussion, what you take from reading The Road surely will depend on what you bring to the reading. The boy in this poignant story is a waning ray of faith whose optimism is juxtaposed against the realistic father who has been hardened by devastation and loss. This is a story of love, loss, and life but whether you are left comforted or frustrated depends on your own belief of mankind and life after life. A litmus test of a book - you will find insight into your own beliefs.
11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2009
This novel was an exceptional read; both intimate and horrifying. Any book that is difficult to put down automatically get's the thumbs up. It grabbed and held my attention in the first 10 pages, something even good books fail to do in the first 100. It is the first McCarthy novel that I have read and I enjoyed it more than I expected. It is the ominous and somewhat perilous journey of a father and son clinging to the hope that there is some good left in a raped and ravaged world. The story is about their continued journey down "the road" to find some sort of salvation in what used to be the United States but is now a cannibalistic, violent, and desperate, society of outlaws, nomads, rapists, murderers, and thieves. At times, The Road's disturbing imagery is difficult to stomach, although McCarthy never goes as far as it seems he will. This probably works in his favour since at several points in the book I almost put it down because I became so afraid of what would happen next. An author who can inject a reader emotionally like that is certainly not lacking in his craft. A tool that McCarthy uses throughout the book to do this is false foreshadowing; planting seeds for things the reader assumes will happen, but never do. This adds to the suspense and fear that McCarthy creates for his audience. It also contributes to the fear of the unknown, which is a major consideration of this story. The plot doesn't really thicken, which adds to the simplicity and nothingness that the book is supposed to make the reader feel. This book conveys more emotion than any other book I have ever read. McCarthy forces the reader to experience fear, sadness, and desperation alongside the main characters. There are a few things I didn't like. The dialogue is difficult to follow at times and can be repetitive. Also, the use of proper names is nearly non-existent, but this seems to serve a purpose. For example, the father and son (as well as the few other characters that come along in the story) have descriptive terms to identify them rather than names; i.e. the man and the boy. The few proper names that are found are mostly brand names. One example of this is Coca Cola, when they find one last can of Coke inside a beaten vending machine in a long abandoned and pillaged grocery store. Much of the book is description as McCarthy isn't just telling a story of loss, but also painting a picture about what post-apocalyptic America may look like. My interpretation of this book, aside from the message that the world is consuming itself to the point of complete extermination, is the true terror in the unknown. It is about the terror of being alone. It is also about the necessary attachment to god and faith when there is nothing else left to believe in. The Road is also an interpretation of raw human nature at the most desperate and destitute of times. The Road is definitely a new addition to some old favourites in post-apocalyptic literature. I look forward to reading more of McCarthy's work down the road.
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Posted June 8, 2009
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An absolutely amazing tale!
I picked up "The Road" solely based on the fact that it was written by the author who wrote "No Country for Old Men", which I havent read, but the movie was outstanding!
I had no pre-judgement about the book, or author. I wasn't too thrilled about the "Oprah's Book Club" sticker on the front though. I figured I would crack the book open, read the 1st chapter to feel it out and toss it aside had it been a weak read.
Wow, was I wrong. I've never read a book faster in my life. The book has no chapters, the characters have no names, it's just a straight read all the way through!
The story is amazing, the characters are amazing, your drawn to every page, constantly cheering them on and worrying about them at the same time. I found myself unable to put the book down, constantly wondering whats next?
The book is about hope and the love between a father & son after the apocalypse, in a savaged land where no plants and animals exist, everything is covered in black ash and cannibals roam the streets, highways and cities. Everyday they struggle with starvation, the weather and the fear that they may never see tomorrow!
Great book, highly recommend to everyone!
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 6, 2010
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I've heard such great reviews about this book and decided to give it a shot. I was thoroughly disappointed. The author leaves many unanswered questions that left me seriously annoyed and angry by the end. Oh, I'm sure it can be analyzed up and down and in and out until my brain falls out, but honestly - why did the world end? How do we know the child is some type of god? Where is the evidence? What is the father dying from? Not to mention the general prose of the book is short and clipped, lacking description (except for the constant reiteration of ash, dark, the word "okay", night, gray, etc). While I understand the author wanted to portray a world that was bleak and hopeless, the constant uses of words like "gray" and "ash" did nothing but irritate me. I read the original book without the movie tie-in and was just disappointed and disgusted with the ending. I learned nothing at all - was only given a brief glance of two nameless wanderers who are on some sort of mission to get to the west coast, only to find nothing. This book was probably one of the worst I've ever read.
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Posted June 13, 2010
This depressing and boring account of a father and son wandering a wasteland is a waste of time itself. The style of writing and the subject matter combine to make reading this almost torture. What could have been written in about one chapter, drones on and on and leaves the reader's mind wandering to anything but the book. Don't bother wasting money or time on this.
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Posted May 14, 2010
What A Boring Book. Don't bother with this. Somebody, somewhere said it was good so all the sheeple joined in. Bleh! yeah, McCarthy has a 'writing style' - LAZY. Halfway thru you realize that whatever the man and boy need will just happen to appear. Read "Alas Babylon" instead, it's a much better book.
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Posted April 4, 2010
[End of world. All life is dead except for a boy, his papa, and the bad guys.]
Are we going to die?
Are you lying to me papa?
Maybe a little.
Why is everything dead papa?
Because it's the end of the world.
Keep moving and let's not forget the buggy, but most importantly stay on the road.
But papa, what about the bad people?
If we see them, hide. Now let's leave the buggy right here and go look for food in those abandoned houses.
[They approach a familiar house.]
This is my house as a child.
This is creepy papa.
Well, let me get some blankets and food.
I'm going outside.
Alright, are you ready to go?
WAIT! I see a boy. Let me go talk to him.
That boy right there.
I don't see a boy.
He's standing right there papa.
Son, I still don't see a boy.
You don't see the boy with the dog papa?
I see the dog, not a boy though.
Oh. Well, I guess I must be seeing things. Let's go.
[They see the bad people and hide.]
I should have made your mother kill you when she wanted to. I don't want this life for you anymore.
Oh. So now you decide?
It's okay, let's keep walking.
[A bit later.]
PAPA. PAPA. A TRAIN!
Yes a train.
A real train?
Yes papa, a for real train.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? LET ME SEE IT!
That's what I came to get you for.
Hold the gun. I'll go in. You know what to do.
No, I don't want it.
I SAID TAKE IT!
It is safe now, you can enter.
What are those papa?
Oh. Why don't you put them in your pocket?
Here boy. Play mister train man.
Okay. Let me make the sounds too. CHEWW CHEWWW. CHUGA CHUGA. CHUGGA CHUGGA. CHEWW CHEWWW.
[a long time passes and a lot of things happen. They awake in the middle of the night.]
PAPA! It's the little boy.
The little boy. Do you think he's okay? I think he was lost before.
I think he's alright.
But papa, he's a little boy. Who's going to find him if he's lost?
As long as it's not me, I don't care. Just go back to sleep
[The boy awakes in the morning.]
Papa. Papa. Papa. Papa. Papa. Papa. Papa. Papa.
[The boy stays there for days and then is approached by the strange man.]
My papa died.
I'm sorry. But come with me because you don't know me. And put the pistol away. You are worrying me.
Where's your stuff.
I don't have much.
That's stupid. But you should come with me or you WILL die.
How do I know you're a good guy?
Are you carrying the fire?
Just a little.
So are you?
Are there any kids?
Any little boys?
AND A GIRL. How about that?
Okay. Lets go.
What about my papa?
What about him?
We can't leave him uncovered.
Oh yes you can, and you will.
Okay. Here have my gun.
I don't want that.
Okay. What about my papa.
What now? There's nothing else to be done. HE'S DEAD.
I want to say goodbye.
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Posted January 10, 2009
I listened to this book on audio tape and fell in love with the narrator's voice, Tom Stechschulte. The book was so good, that about 1/2 way through, I checked out the written version from the library so I could enjoy it whenever I was able. Well, after a few pages, I missed the narrator so much that I returned the book and continued with the audio version. I could just hear him saying "It's okay, it's o-kay."<BR/>The Road tells the story of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world. The bond between them is evident from the beginning. The hope that the father is able to instill in the son in this seemingly hopeless and dire environment is amazing.<BR/>Though place names are not mentioned, they are following a map, and it seems they are going through the mountains to the ocean - so I pictured heading west to the Pacific. Along the way they are able to stay one step ahead of the 'bad guys' and with the boy's insistence, help others whenever they are able. People are few and far between, and food and supplies are even scarcer. <BR/>With every step traveled, every tin of food found or lost, every imagined and unimagined danger, I was kept on the edge of my seat. Travel with the boy and his Papa on their search for any good that is left in the world as the continue to carry The Light.<BR/>I just discovered that this book has been made into a movie to be released this year! This will be a must see for me!
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2008
A dreary, obsolete world, survived only by cannibal hordes and their hapless victimes, would at first glance be the antithesis to a tale of a tender, amorous relationship between father and son. But as the unnamed man and boy trek across the barren land, the sheer love that exists between the two becomes apparent. They are "each the other world's entire." In their hostile enviroment, they bond, strengthened by the trials of starvation, terror, and the bleak outlook of the future. The two exemplify what every parent and child could ever strive to be.<BR/><BR/>McCarthy's writing is both minimal and eloquent, terse and articulate. The world is described in fractured syntax, expressing the broken thoughts that must have crossed the characters' minds. But in the abrupt narration, simply poetic writing comes forth, making this book an absolute joy to digest.<BR/><BR/>McCarthy also possesses the mastery of suspense. Interactions with the unlawful bands of survivors present the terror felt by the characters is bared in raw terms to the reader. Paired with the desolate yet intriguing imagery of the post apocalyptic world, The Road grips and seldom lets go.<BR/><BR/>Extremely worthy of its Pulitzer, The Road encompasses hope and dread, simplicity and fluency. It is a standing triumph in 21st century literature.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2009
Posted July 30, 2009
This book was amazing to me. I typically stay with writers like Patterson, King, and Connelly but I took a chance on this book. Of all of the books I have read this ranks in the top 5. It is gripping, emotional, and thrilling without being too far out there. This is a modern masterpiece.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2009
This book is just wonderful, with it's dark ominous feeling of suspense. It will keep you on the edge of your seat until you finish.
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Posted January 6, 2009
My husband bought it for me as a Christmas gift because of the good ratings, the Oprah recommendation, etc. I'm only about a third of the way through, and I don't even know if I can finish it. Maybe I just don't know much about "real" literature, but if this is the kind of writing that warrants a Pulitzer, those that do the choosing need to find a new line of work. I feel cheated!
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Posted October 5, 2008
Starting out, I had really high expectations for this book, and I wasn¿t disappointed. While the destination itself is meaningless, the events and small details along the way are very revealing. For example, none of the characters are given names, as names have no significance in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Initially, however, none of this was apparent to me. I was almost aggravated by the dull, desperate monotony prevalent on each page. But as the story progressed, it hit me that the dull, desperate monotony was exactly how the man and the boy felt everyday. I can¿t recommend this book enough, but only to some people. There are a lot of grueling, cringe-inducing scenes, and a lot of death. If these things don¿t bother you, you owe it to yourself to read The Road.
4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.