Posted by: Gregg | October 9, 2007

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

I’m slowly but surely coming to the realization that there will, in fact, be a tiny, loud, needy, and very messy person who will be living at my house that I will, in part, be responsible for. Having children is wonderful in the abstract. I’m a great theoretical parent. But now that the abstract is quickly becoming reality, I realize that I’m hopelessly unprepared. I feel like Britney about to go onstage at the VMAs, full of false confidence but ultimately about to embarrass myself in front of millions of people.

I’ll give you an example. I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road“. Granted, it’s an Oprah Book Club pick, but Cormac McCarthy is literaturah, you see, and since I’m soon to be plunging myself into the realm of Elmo, Dora the Explorer, and the Wiggles, I figured that I needed to read something good before my reading lists devolve into something that distracts me in the fifteen minutes I’ll have between nap time and a diaper change.

Apparently I needed to do a bit more research into my books: “The Road” is a post-apocalyptic novel about a nameless man and his nameless son who travel across a dead America, foraging for food among a gray and blasted landscape, avoiding the marauding bands of cannibalistic survivors that roam the countryside. Yeah. You can just feel the laughter coming out of that novel, can’t you? Just an airport read; a quick little kneeslapper that you forget an hour after you put it down, right?

Dear god, people. I’m a fan of noir and all, but this sucker is bleak. Seriously bleak. The words and sentences themselves are bleak – the novel uses no quotation marks at all, as if McCarthy was too depressed to add them in. All the sentences are short and abrupt, as if the words themselves lack the energy to continue. Major victories in the novel include finding a jar of peaches and successfully hiding the entire night from a group of cannibal slavers. And no cannibal slavers in a fun, pulpy Mad Max sort of way, either.

The concept of humanity and compassion in “The Road” is guttering out like a candle in a wind tunnel. There is so little hope left that a mere act of kindness to another human being is almost overwhelming. Which, of course, is the point of the novel. But as soon-to-be father, it’s not something I’m even remotely interested in reading right now. The problem is that “The Road” is such a damn good novel that I was unable to tear myself away from it. To be honest, this is an amazing example of American literaturah at its best. It’s the soul-sucking, depressing, ‘there is no hope for the human race so let’s just give up and let the cockroaches take a whack at it’ best, but there you go.

The next book I read has got to be a novel about happy rainbows and butterflies or something. If you know any like that, pass ’em along. Meanwhile I’ll be scrubbing my brain out with bleach.


  1. Here’s a unicorn chaser for you:

  2. *cough* Gunslinger bleak hypothetical future Dart Tower Series *cough*

    I’m working on The Bourne Identity…books give you so much more insight into characters.

  3. Excellent point – but in the DT series, at least there is the option of other worlds to save. With Cormac, not so much – we damaged the one we got.

    (ashamed to admit I haven’t read the series past “Wizard and Glass”.)

  4. don’t be ashamed. the series blows past “Wizard and Glass”.

    does cormac ever use quotes?

    it’s a hard couple months, man, when the new person comes…i recommend comics during that time. before then…perhaps a tom robbins novel will put you in a pleasant mood.

  5. Hmm…Bill Bryson’s memoir made me laugh so hard I almost wet myself a couple of times. He’s a good one when you need light funny and yet smart books. I read him while Morgan was a brand-new behbeh.

  6. Gregger,

    Don’t be snowed by the literaturah label on this can of worms. The apocalypse has been done before, been done better.

    If you want something that will restore your faith in humanity, check out Barry B. Longyear. Enemy Mine is fucking brilliant, and the Circus World novels are inspired — Circus World, City of Baraboo. Suck on that, Cormac.

  7. I read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! πŸ˜€

  8. I disagree that McCarthy’s premise in “The Road” is that there is very little hope for the human race. The love between father and son, and the possibility that that love will be carried into the future by the son, provides the hope. Shouldn’t that be inspiring for a soon-to-be father? I think this is my favorite of all McCarthy’s novels.

  9. As someone who’s also staring down the barrel of dad, there’s a whole lot of inspirational stuff there. The amount of meaning that’s created by having someone to care for, the nature of unconditional love… good stuff.

    And, given my recent circumstances, I cried like a little fucking bitch through


    … the father’s final speech to his son. “You’re the best guy” breaks my heart right the hell in two.

  10. There’s a reason I don’t read Oprah’s Book Club picks; too many tend to be depressing and bleak.

    As for being a Dad, don’t worry too much about it. I speak as the mother (okay, I know Dads have different roles) of four grown sons. I had a blast! Yes, even when all four were teen-agers! Some of it was hard, some of it was even grueling, but the joy and energy they brought to my life was well worth it. My advice is relax and enjoy the ride. πŸ™‚

  11. I loved that book. Loved.
    I didn’t want to say much about it because I want my roommate to read it and also I suck at any sort of “review.” Concerts, books, etc. I mostly just sort of mutter about how I liked it or didn’t. So whatev. It brought to mind the Dark Tower series for me also. I need to jot down these brand-new-baby suggestions for the arrival of the spring hybrid.

  12. I agree with Monique – Oprah wouldn’t pick it if it wasn’t monumentally depressing.

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