Kindle Cormac McCarthy Ê The Road Kindle É Ê

A searing postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpieceA father and his son walk alone through burned America Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind It is cold enough to crack stones and when the snow falls it is gray The sky is dark Their destination is the coast although they don’t know what if anything awaits them there They have nothing just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road the clothes they are wearing a cart of scavenged food—and each other The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains but in which the father and his son “each the other’s world entire” are sustained by love Awesome in the totality of its vision it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of ultimate destructiveness desperate tenacity and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation

10 thoughts on “The Road

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    The Road is unsteady and repetitive now aping Melville now Hemingway but it is less a seamless blend than a reanimated corpse sewn together from dead parts into a lumbering incongruous whole then jolted to ignoble half life by McCarthy’s grand reputation with Hollywood Filmmakers and incestuous award committeesIn '96 NYU Professor Alan Sokal submitted a paper for publication to several scientific journals He made it so complex and full of jargon the average person wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of it He wrote a conclusion that would deliberately flatter the preconceptions of the journals he submitted it to As he predicted it was accepted and published despite the fact that it was all complete nonsenseThe Sokal Affair showed the utter incompetence of these trusted judges They were unable to recognize good or bad arguments and were mostly motivated by politics The accolades showered upon works like The Road have convinced me that the judges of literature are just as incompetent and I’m not the only one who thinks so Unlike Sokol McCarthy didn't do it purposefully he just writes in an ostentatiously empty style which is safe and convenient to praiseMany have lauded his straightforward prose and though I am not the most devoted fan of Hemingway I can admire the precision and economy of a deliberate economical use of words Yet that was not what I got from The Road He took out the plastic bottle of water and unscrewed the cap and held it out and the boy came and took it and stood drinking He lowered the bottle and got his breath and he sat in the road and crossed his legs and drank again Then he handed the bottle back and the man drank and screwed the cap back on and rummaged through the pack The ate a can of white beans passing it between them and he threw the empty tin into the woodsThen they set out down the road again Simple? Yes Precise and purposeful? Hrdlt The Road is as elegant as a laundry list if not as well punctuated Compiling a long and redundant series of unnecessary descriptions is not straightforward but needlessly complicatedWe're supposed to find this simplicity profound that old postmodern game of defamiliarization making the old seem new showing the importance of everyday events but McCarthy isn't actually changing the context he's just restating There is no personality in it no relationship to the plot no revealing of the characters Perhaps it is meant to show their weariness they cannot even muster enough energy to participate in their own lives but is the best way to demonstrate boredom to write paragraphs that bore the reader? A good writer can make the mundane seem remarkable but The Road is too bare to be beautiful and too pointless to be poignantOnce we have been lulled by long redundancy McCarthy abruptly switches gears moving from the plainness of Hemingway to the florid overwrought figurative language of Melville The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves There is no attempt to bridge the two styles they are forced to cohabitate without rhyme or reason to unite them In another sentence he describes 'dead ivy' 'dead grass' and 'dead trees' with unerring monotony and then as if adding a punchline declares them 'shrouded in a carbon fog' which sounds like the world's blandest cyberpunk anthologyAnother example It's snowing the boy said A single gray flake sifting down He caught it in his hand and watched it expire like the last host of christendom McCarthy seems to be trying to reproduce the morbid religious symbolism of Melville when he plays the tattered prophet in Moby Dick But while Melville's theology is terribly sublime and pervasive McCarthy's is ostentatious and diminutive like a carved molding in an otherwise unadorned room Nowhere does he produce the staggeringly surreal otherworldliness Melville achieves in a line like There stand his trees each with a hollow trunk as if a hermit and a crucifix were withinOften McCarthy's gilded metaphors are piled one atop the other in what must be an attempt to develop an original voice but which usually sounds like the contents of a ‘Team Edward’ notebook left behind after poetry class Query How does the never to be differ from what never was?Dark of the invisible moon The nights now only slightly less black By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lampPeople sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate and smoking in their clothes Like failed sectarian suicides I love how he prefaces that like an Asimov robot Sardonic Observation I'd almost believe he was one since he has no understanding of beauty or human emotion Biting Quip However he violates Asimov's first law since his awkward prose harms human earsSometimes smack in the middle of a detailed description of scraping paint with a screwdriver we suddenly get a complex jargon term which few readers would understand These terms are neither part of the world nor are they aspects of specialized character knowledge so I cannot assign them any meaning in the textOne of the basic lessons for any beginning writer is 'don't just add big words because you can' it's self indulgent and doesn't really help the story It would be one thing if it were a part of some stylistic structure instead of bits of out of place jargon that conflict with the overall style of the book textual flotsam for us to wade throughThe longer I read the mirthlessly dire it became and the less I found I could take it seriously Every little cluster of sentences left on its own as a standalone chapter every little two word incomplete sentence trying to demand importance because it actually had punctuation a rare commodity every undifferentiated monosyllabic piece of non dialogue like a hobo talking to himself it all made the book overblown and nonsensicalIt just stared me down like a huge drunk guy in a bar daring me to laugh at his misspelled tattoo And I did I don't know if my coworkers or the people on the bus knew what 'The Road' was about it was years before the movie but they had to assume it was one hilarious road with a busfull of nuns hiding a convict in disguise on the run from a bumbling southern sheriff and his deputy a donkey is involvedWithout mentioning specifics I will say the notorious ending of the book is completely tacked on in no way fits with or concludes any of the emotional build of the book but instead wraps up neat and tight It certainly bears out McCarthy's admission on Oprah that he had no idea where it was going when he wrote it We can tell CormacAs you may have noticed from the quotes another notorious issue is the way the book is punctuated which is to say it isn't The most complex mark is the a rare comma It's not like McCarthy is only using simple straightforward sentences either he fills up on conjoined clauses and partial sentence fragments he just doesn't bother to mark any of themHe also doesn't use any quotes in the books and rarely attributes statements to characters so we must first try to figure out if someone is talking or if it's just another snatch of 'poetic license' and then determine who is talking Sure Melville did away with quotes in one chapter in Moby Dick but he did it in stylistic reference to Shakespeare and he also seemed to be aware that it was a silly affectation best suited to a ridiculous sceneIt's not only the structure grammar figurative language and basic descriptions which are so absurdly lacking the characters are likewise flat dull and repetitive Almost every conversation between the father and son is the same Father Do it nowSon I'm scaredFather Just do itSon Are we going to die?Father NoSon Are you sure?Father Yes Remember you won't get little tags so you know who's speaking it'll all just be strung out in a line without differentiation Then they wander around for a bit or run from crazy people and we finally get the cap to the conversation Son Why did terrible thing just happen?Father Stares off in silenceSon Why did terrible thing just happen?Father More silence And that’s it the whole relationship it never changes or grows Nor does it seem to make much sense The characters are always together each the other's sole companion father and son and yet they are constantly distant and at odds like a suburban parent and child who rarely see each other and have little in common McCarthy never demonstrates how such a disconnect arose between two people who are constantly intimate and reliant on one anotherBut then McCarthy confided to Oprah that the is book about his relationship with his own son so it makes sense why the emotional content is completely at odds with the setting Perhaps he just sat down one say and thought “I’m an award winning author and screenwriter who has a somewhat distant relationship with my son You know what that’s like? That’s like the unendurable physical suffering of people in the third world who are trying to find food and escape crazed murderous mobs” So then he wrote a book equating the two which is about the most callous egotistical act of privileged self pity a writer can indulge inAt least now I know why the characters and their reactions don’t make much sense The boy is constantly terrified and his chief role involves pointing at things and screaming punctuating every conflict in the book like a bad horror film Cannibals and dead infants are an okay if cliche place to start when it comes to unsettling the reader but just having the characters react histrionically does not build tension especially when the characters are too flat to be sympathetic in the first place Another Creative Writing 101 lesson if you have to resort to over the top character reactions to let the audience know how they are supposed to feel then your 'emotional moment' isn't working It's the literary equivalent of a laugh trackYou know what’s unsettling than a child screaming when he finds a dead infant? A child not screaming when he finds a dead infant And really that’s the likely outcome The young boy has never known another world his world is death and horror Anyone who has seen a picture of a Rwandan boy with an AK can see how children adapt to what’s around them And you know what would make a great book? A father who remembers the old world trying to prevent his son from becoming a callous monster because of the new oneBut no we get a child who inexplicably reacts as if he’s used to the good life in suburbia and all this death and killing is completely new to him even though we’ve watched him go through it half a dozen times already The characters never grow numb to it they never seem to suffer PTSD their reactions are akin to angstEvery time there is a problem the characters just fold in on themselves and give up People really only do that when they have the luxury of sitting about and ruminating on what troubles them When there is a sudden danger before us we might run or freeze but there’s hardly time to feel sorry for ourselvesThere is no joy or hope in this book not even the fleeting false kind Everything is constantly bleak Yet human beings in stressful dangerous situations always find ways to carry on small victories justifications or even lies and delusions The closest this book gets is ‘The Fire’ which is the father’s term for why they must carry on through all these difficulties But replace ‘The Fire’ with ‘The Plot’ and you’ll see what effect is achieved it’s not character psychology but authorial convenience Apparently McCarthy cannot even think of a plausible reason why human beings would want to surviveThere is nothing engaging about a world sterilized of all possibility People always create a way out even when there is none What is tragic is not a lack of hope but misplaced hope I could perhaps appreciate a completely empty world as a writing exercise but as McCarthy is constantly trying to provoke emotional reactions he cannot have been going for utter bleakness The Road is a canvas painted black so it doesn't mater how many black strokes he layers on top they will not stand out because there is no contrast there is no depth no breaking or building of tension just a constant addition of featureless details to a featureless whole Some people seem to think that an emotionally manipulative book that makes people cry is better than one that makes people horny but at least people don’t get self righteous about what turns them onThis is tragedy porn Suburban malaise is equated with the most remote and terrible examples of human pain So dull housewives can read it and think ‘yes my ennui is just like a child who stumbles across a corpse’ and perhaps she will cry and feel justified in doing so Or a man might read it and think ‘yes my father was distant and it makes me feel like I live alone in a hostile world I don’t care to understand’ he will not cry but he will say that he didAnd so the privileged can read about how their pain is the same as the pain of those starving children they mute during commercial breaks In the perversity of modern invisible colonialism where a slave does not wash your clothes but builds the machine that washes them these self absorbed people who have never starved or had their lives imperiled can think of themselves as worldly as ‘one with humanity’ as good caring peopleThey recycle They turn the water off when they brush their teeth They buy organic They even thought about joining the Peace Corps Their guilt is assuaged They are free to bask in their own radiant anguishAnd it all depresses me which makes me a shit because I’m no entitled to it than any other well fed educated winner of the genetic lottery So when I read this book I couldn’t sympathize with that angst and think it justified just like I couldn’t with Holden’s I know my little existential crisis isn’t comparable to someone who has really lost control of their life who might actually lose lifeBut this kind of egotistical detachment has become typical of American thought and of American authors whose little personal insular explorations don't even pretend to look at the larger world Indeed there is a self satisfied notion that trying to look at the world sullies the pure artistAnd that 'emotionally pure isolated author' is what we get from the Oprah interview Sure she's asking asinine questions but McCarthy shows no capacity to discuss either craft or ideas refusing to take open ended questions and discuss writing he instead laughs condescendingly and shrugs Then again he may honestly not have much insight on the topicLooked at in this way it's not surprising he won the Pulitzer Awards committees run on politics and choosing McCarthy is a political decision an attempt to declare that insular American arrogance is somehow still relevant But the world seems content to move ahead without America and its literature which is why no one expects McCarthy or any American author to win a Nobel any time soonThis book is a paean to the obliviousness of American self importance in our increasingly global undifferentiated world One way or the other it will stand as a testament to the last gasp of a dying philosophy either we will collapse under our own in fighting and short sightedness or we will be forced to evolve into something new and competitive a bloated reputation will carry you only so farBut then the Pulitzer committee is renowned for picking unadventurous winners usually an unremarkable late entry by an author past their prime As William Gass put it the prize is simply not given to work of the first rank rarely even to the second and if you believed yourself to be a writer of that eminence you are now assured of being over the hill To any genre reader this book will have a familiar and unpleasant taste the same one LeGuin has often lamented that of the big name author slumming They pop into fantasy or sci fi with their lit fic credentials to show us little folk 'how it's really done' but know nothing about the genre or its history and just end up reinventing the wheel producing a book that would have been tired and dated thirty years ago Luckily for such writers none of their lit fic critics know anything about other genres any sort of bland rehash will feel fresh to them as long as you have the name recognition to get them to look in the first placeSo McCarthy gets two stars for a passable if cliche script for a sci fi adventure movie minus one star for unconscionable denigration of human suffering I couldn't say if McCarthy's other books are any good I will probably try another just to see if any part of his reputation is deserved but this one certainly didn't help All I see is another author who got too big for his editors and finding himself free to write whatever he wanted only proved that he no longer has anything worth saying Look if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty insipid materialistic emotionally retarded sadomasochistic and stupid then I or any writer can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid vapid emotionally retarded which is easy because these sorts of characters require no development With descriptions that are merely lists Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other If what's always distinguished bad writing flat characters a narrative world that's not recognizably human etc is also a description of today's world then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world most of us agree that these are dark times and stupid ones but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? David Foster Wallace