As part of my required reading for this school year, I had to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy over summer break. Not the most uplifting book, for sure, and not exactly the kind of happy and relaxing pleasure reading I’d want to read on my vacation. Because my sister and many of my friends had already read it, I knew the gist of it, knew how horrible everyone warned me it was, and put it off until the last week before school started. Lucky for me, I’m a fast reader and it’s a simple book, so I got it done in two days.
The Road takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, following the story of a father and his son as they try to navigate the barren, dangerous road to the south, where they hope they will find salvation and other humans. Along their journey, they struggle to find food, water, and shelter, deal with illnesses, protect themselves against cannibalistic and murderous groups who travel the road as well, and take in the brutal destruction around them.
You’ll notice straight off the bat that this book lacks vital punctuation at times; often, words won’t have apostrophes where they need to, and sentences will be sans commas. Being the grammar freak I am, this annoyed me so much, but I eventually realized that it wasn’t due to the editor’s laziness. The point of this book is that the world as we know it right now is dead and gone. Humans are all but extinct, civilization has gone up in smoke. The lack of punctuation was to show how society is nonexistent, how basic language is nearly dead. It’s the downfall of humanity, really, when education is unheard of.
On top of that, the main characters don’t have names. They are simply referred to as Papa and Son throughout the novel. There are no chapters; instead, every one to five paragraphs there’s a break, and then a new scene starts. It’s purposefully choppy and rough, I think, to reinforce the message of society’s destruction.
Though at times the book was severely dull, I think it added to the bleak, hopeless mood. There were many times when I felt as though I was just reading the same few pages over and over and over again, because of the repetitive grey scenery and feelings of the main characters. For nearly the whole book, it’s the same cycle repeated: travel the road, stop to rest, worry about the weather, mysteriously cough up blood, watch out for other people, look for food, sleep, repeat. Much of the dialogue repeats, too, which I actually found interesting rather than annoying.
Quite honestly, I can completely understand why so many people reject this book. I mean, personally, I liked it, but that seems to be a fluke. Let me warn you now: there is absolutely no happiness or hope in this book. It’s depressing, it’s sad, it’s horribly gory and vivid and may, in fact, trigger you, so be careful. I think the only reason why I liked it was because of how truthful it was, how it didn’t hide the darker side of humanity, how it showed what the world could really be like some day. There’s no sugarcoating, no fake pretenses of joy or hope.
While depressing and hopeless, this book is still very well-written. The way McCarthy strings together every single source of death and sadness he can think of is very powerful; it really makes you think about the future, think about the people you interact with on a daily basis, makes you wonder what they’d be like in the world of The Road. The plot was dull at times, yes, and the ending was predictable and disappointing, but nonetheless, it still just goes to show that this is the real world, not everyone gets a fairytale happy ending, some things aren’t meant to be sugarcoated.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It was deep and moving, and though I felt no will to do anything in life after reading it, it still had an impact on me. It certainly isn’t something I would ever re-read (once is enough, trust me), but it contains a message which I know I’ll contemplate and remember for years to come. I would recommend it if you don’t mind extremely sad books, or total death and destruction. Be careful, because it can be very triggering!
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars