The Road

There aren't many superlatives left to describe Cormac McCarthy's The Road that haven't already been written, but I'll put my oar in anyway.

It's the finest, most memorable book I've read in the last couple of years.

McCarthy's book works on every level. It's an effective allegory for the isolation that pervades urban life. It's a very taut thriller at its core. It's horrifying in its revelation of the depravity that extends from such hopeless circumstances. It's very well written--a "literary" novel that excels in sustaining a rhythm and cadence in its short, elegant sentences and stripped-down approach to punctuation.

And I was thoroughly moved by the relationship between the father and the son. Honest. Unflinching. Crushing in the novel's final act.

Consider this excerpt to get a sense of the prose:

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 hadn't 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.

It's a sad, beautiful story. It will find a place in many college literature courses from here to eternity, and I think that's a great place for it. Because these students--I worked with a half dozen last night in a rhetoric course--they are feeling some of the isolation and sorrow that is communicated in The Road. We were discussing the status of the American thinker last evening, and they weren't very hopeful for their countrymen. They cited offerings in the media (edutainment was a favorite topic of concern), a shifting, uncertain economy and changing technologies as sources of stress and barriers to growth.

The Road is about love. It's about perseverance. It's about hope.

And it's an artistic life-ring at a time when the waters are really rising.

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