Cormac McCarthy will be pleased to learn that he has earned the coveted Dave’s Book Club award for his 2006 novel The Road. I know there have been other, lesser honors, such as the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, but that’s no reason to stint. C.M., I now bestow a lifetime membership in Dave’s pantheon of pretty good writers. (Your seat is right up there, third row left.)
While perhaps not the best book ever written, and despite a plot that can be summed up in a single sentence, The Road is carried along by McCarthy’s haunting prose and an idea that never fails to capture this writer’s imagination: eluding cannibals in a post-apocalyptic America. The whole last-people-on-earth concept has fascinated me since I read Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon as a kid, and since then I’ve read any similarly-themed book that has come my way. McCarthy fans might cringe to hear me say this, but I’m also a big fan of Stephen King’s The Stand, which is arguably the thickest post-apocalypse book ever written.
In many ways The Road is the polar opposite of The Stand. It’s 287 pages, for one thing, compared to about 700,000 and counting for the King opus. And there are only two real characters, compared to King’s sprawling cast of thousands. While King cast his yarn as an epic struggle of good vs. evil, McCarthy’s work is a meditation on survival against a chaotic and indifferent universe. The horrors his two protagonists encounter derive not from some tangible force of evil, but from other survivors who face the same struggles they do — and opt for a somewhat more convenient means of putting food on the table.
For all the simplicity of its plot, The Road is a fascinating read. The journey entails hundreds of challenges, great and small, and the way these tests are met or circumvented is just as interesting as the effects they have on the father and son. I was reminded at one point of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, in which the simple logistics of survival drove the story on without dialog or change of setting.
Having just read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian before picking up this book, it was interesting to note what seems a fundamental change in the writer’s world view between 1985 and now. While The Road will never be hailed as the feel-good book of the decade, its hint of hope and redemption is positively upbeat compared to the steely nihilism of Blood Meridian.
But now I’m getting too windy. Bottom line: Two thumbs up. Dave-Bob says check it out.