January 27, 2012

How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?

A lightning review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (New York: Knopf, 2006). Hardcover, 256 pp.

In the near future, a catastrophe (which I inferred to be a nuclear holocaust, though McCarthy has suggested it was an asteroid strike) has left almost nothing alive and covered everything in blowing ash. Civilization has broken down; only small scavenging bands roam the ruins. Many have resorted to cannibalism.

A man and his son struggle to travel to the ocean with their meagre possessions and small stash of food. They are alone in the world: the boy's mother committed suicide shortly after the disaster. They have a gun, but only two bullets. The man realizes that he is dying, but nonetheless he still wants to reach the coast, protect his son from the evil around him, and assure him that they are the "good guys."

The Road has been described as Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece. I’m struggling to understand why. Its repetitive storyline lacks plot: man and boy are starving, find food, eat food, man and boy are starving. Lather, rinse, repeat. To McCarthy's credit, he has an accurate view of human nature as fundamentally evil. Whether or not civilization would completely crumble as the result of such a disaster thankfully remains to be seen; I do know that more local-scale catastrophes have not resulted in the complete breakdown of society. The Road was a quick read (a couple of hours), but in the end, rather disappointing.