A second round of “The Road”

I simply have to come back to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I read the book over Christmas and talked about it in an earlier post and now I’m re-reading it (which is unusual for me, since I like to move immediately from the Read to the Unread). On this second round, I already know the story — a man and a boy trying to survive in a bleak and ruined landscape — and I know the turns and twists of plot (such as it is) and I know the ending. With those matters in my mind, I can sink into the language. I see nuances I’d missed.

I don’t know how McCarthy does it. Here’s the same ashen world described over and over but you never feel he’s repeating himself. Even the ubiquitous color “gray” seems newly revealed in its grayness at every turn, and I realize what’s happening is “the triumph of language over nothingness,” as the Chicago Tribune’s review put it. Or maybe it’s even better put by an experience of the man in the book:

There were times when he sat watching the boy sleep that he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it wasnt about death. He wasnt sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness.

I’m not sobbing as I read, but the ache in me is the same, and I’m not sure what it’s about either, but I think it has to be this beauty of words, this resilient and scavenged goodness of story.

Cormac McCarthy


There’s a biblical sensibility here as well, due perhaps to the author’s Catholic childhood and education, and though McCarthy said, in an interview he gave Oprah, that the novel is just about that man and that boy on the road, but people draw all kinds of conclusions from reading. Yes, and it’s okay that we do. I hear a riff on Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and  discover a catalogue of rituals that sustain the soul: eating together, the man tousling the boy’s hair “like some ancient anointing,”and telling “old stories of courage and justice as he remembered them.”

As you can tell, I like this book a lot. I know I’ve come to it later than many folks, but if you haven’t read it yet either, I’d certainly recommend that you do. 


4 thoughts on “A second round of “The Road”

  1. One of the biblical themes that kept coming back to me as I read this book was that of “exile.” As you allude to, there is a profound sense of abandonment and loneliness in the book. God-forsakenness is a good word for the world he describes… probably human- and goodness-forsaken as well. Almost, at least.

    I liked the book very much as well, although it was difficult to read. I couldn’t help but think of my own son throughout. Maybe some of the best books are the hardest to read… Have you (or anyone else) seen the film? I’ve not heard much about it so far.

    • I can certainly understand that having a young son must have affected your read of the book. — I did see the movie recently, but it was maybe too soon after reading the book to appreciate the cinematic version as much as otherwise. There is some very fine work in the film and scenes/images that effectively highlighted the story’s themes, new images too (for example, they spend a night in a ruined church). The moments between father and son did not seem “quiet” enough for me, however — emotionally I mean. But again, I was fresh from the book. — The reviews (164) average 6.8/10 at Rotten Tomatoes.

  2. I’m new to your blog, Dora. Lots to read!

    I fluked upon ‘The Road’ about a year ago and thought it was brilliantly written. I saw the movie (hoping it wouldn’t ‘ruin’ the book for me) and like you reread the book.

    Ryan – I saw the movie with my wife (who hadn’t read the book) during New Years. Probably not the best way to face a new decade. I did tell her about the theme and what to expect. Its definately not a ‘chick flick.’ The movie is well worth going to.

    I found the contrast between the man who remembers the old world and the boy who now has this new reality quite fascinating. The good guys and carrying the fire – the bare bones of the new religion for the new world.

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