fiction, review

The Road

Indonesian edition’s cover

People are men eaters, aren’t they? Well, figuratively speaking. We cannot deny the dog-eat-dog mentality that we hold dear, nor can we claim that it’s not gnawing away at our compassion for each other. We are dragged into it and unconsciously operating under its very system. Generally, I cannot tell that it is what Cormac McCarthy wants to say in The Road, but it is at least what I got. First published in 2006, The Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and proves to be something extraordinary in today’s literary world. Its theme of humanity, its unusual narrative, and its brutally human characters are all, in my opinion, the key factors of its huge success.

Written in a dystopian manner, The Road tells about how it must feel to live in a world that has come nearly to an end. Crashed and damaged, the said world McCarthy built has nothing left but burned trees, abandoned, destroyed houses, derelict land, a little amount of water, and a very short supply of food. A man and his son have to get through all of these with only the clothes they wear, some remnants of food in their trolley, a gun with two bullets, and no one but each other. That man himself has nothing left in him but a strong will to survive, to protect and take his son safely to the better place they are heading to. But the damaged world does not only leave them with its crumbs, but also people who, literally speaking, turn into men eaters. Facing that, a gun and some food are obviously not enough. They have to hide, they have to trick, they have to dig and spend wise, and sometimes they have to fight. At some point, the man himself has to be cruel to others for the sake of his son, in spite of his son’s reluctance to feel grateful for that. Despite their hardships, they can still find some luck every so often and get away with every little thing they need to survive. At the end, the son can actually escape the terrible ordeal and continue his journey to the place he is expected to be.

Reading the whole story, I perceive that here McCarthy does not only intend to picture what it would be like the world that comes so nearly to an end, but he wants to show what its people turn to be when this disaster truly happens. What will you have in mind? Hope to get out? Will to survive? Care for your beloved one? Care for other people? Does it even occur to you to have the slightest compassion for others? Or will you think only about yourself? All those questions are embodied in the character of the man, who thinks of nothing but getting his son safely out of the whole mess. He may not be the literal man-eater like all those horrendous men riding in trucks, but what he does, even if for the sake of his son, proves that he is at least one of them in a figurative way. He still has some pity on others, but that only occurs when his son asks him to. And this is the most interesting moral that came to my notice while reading it, that kids will be kids, and thus they are innocent. They don’t think about stealing from others so they can get what they need, and they don’t have the urge to eat them. Living in this world, damaged or not, we do have to be careful and watchful, but don’t you think that sometimes we need this kind of innocence?

To make it go together well with the atmosphere, McCarthy creates a world that is not only damaged, but dark and cruel and so unthinkable. Every description of places, be it the mountain, the cave, the houses, or the road, seems so rife with cruelty and horror and evil want of flesh and blood that I could feel my skin crawl. He is also so adept in describing the horrible “dog-eat-dog” scenes that I found myself stunned with incredulity at some point. Everything seems so clear and vivid, powerful and poignant, including the portrayals of every character. McCarthy’s decision not to name them is a bit irksome to me, but that’s beside the point. What does matter is that both the man and his son are, to my thinking, the real pictures of what people are and what people should be. Their characters, and also all the men described in the book, ring with truth, however fictional they might be.

The Road is written in a brilliant narrative, running with smooth flow and sometimes punctuated with shocking scenes here and there. The plot doesn’t feel slow, nor too hasty, for that matter. McCarthy knows very well when to move fast and when to slow down a bit. It’s not a complex story, I should say, but it is gripping and makes your heart skip a beat. At the end of the story, McCarthy doesn’t leave the reader without a single message. There, he seems to state that no matter how bad the world is, there is still love that moves you and saves you.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is definitely a beautiful work. Well, beautiful in a dark way, perhaps. The fact that the dialogues are all written without quotation marks made my reading a little bit difficult, but that was not really a problem. I enjoyed The Road immensely, and I think you will, too.

Rating: 4/5

2 thoughts on “The Road”

  1. Great review. My old book group read The Road at the time of its release in paperback and it really divided opinion (to the point where a couple of members of our group couldn’t bear to finish it). It’s a good one for discussion for all the reasons you raise in your questions.

    1. Thank you, Jacqui. some of my Indonesian blogger friends couldn’t bear it, too. it was too hard for them. they went through it with dread crawling all over their skins. this book is really a good subject for discussion.

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