Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: The Road

"He was gone longer than he'd meant to be and hurried his steps the best he could, the water swinging and gurgling in the shrunken sway of his gut. He stopped to rest and began again. When he got to the woods the boy did not look as if he'd even stirred and he knelt and set the jars carefully in the duff and picked up the pistol and put it in his belt and then he just sat there watching him." (The Road, pgs 123-124)
Description from Goodreads: A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece. A 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. 

My rating (if books received movie ratings): R

So, I have many a thought about The Road. This is one of the books where you get more questions than answers, which isn't always fun. The information we have about the characters, their location, where they are going, and what happened to America is just so vague. Without giving spoilers, I'm going to go through the few clues we have that help guide us towards possible answers to those questions.

The Characters: The author only refers to them as "the man" and "the boy". There is very little dialogue in this book, none of which is set apart by quotation marks. Hence, you never can be entirely sure if it's the man or the boy speaking. Most of the dialogue is simply a repetition of the phrases, "I'm scared" or "okay". We know the boy was born after the destruction of America. His dad- the man- also referred to as "papa", we know was married to the boy's mom. We know she passed away and how, though I won't give it away here.  We're not sure what his pre-apocalypse occupation was. At one point, I thought he may have been in construction. There was a scene which seemed to be a flashback involving men doing something with the ground. On the other hand, he seems to be extremely skilled in DIY minor surgery such as stiching himself up after becoming injured at the hands of a bow and arrow. This is a skill he could have picked-up in nearly any medical profession, I believe. Was he a doctor? An EMT? A nurse? We may never know.

Location: This is the most intriguing aspect of the book to me. We know they are heading south because the man presumes it will be warmer there. America seems to be in some sort of nuclear winter state. Which I'll theorize on later. So are they heading south on the east coast or west? I believe East. The author gives us a few topographical features to go by. Mountains and hills. These are located on both coasts. Not so much in the Plains region of the US so we can cross that out right off the bat. I believe they are somewhere in Applachia. Our biggest hint is they see a sign that says "See Rock City". I found a Wikipedia entry about Rock City, Tennessee and funny enough it actually includes a picture of a similar sign. However, the same entry actually states there's over 900 barns in 19 states with this same slogan. Then they scale a mountain. There's hills everywhere. The hills definitely reminded me of my brief stint living in Central North Carolina. There's also another point in which there's a reference to "the gap". Daniel Boone made famous an area of North Carolina called Deep Gap, which is a natural formation caused by an ancient meteor. Farms and wooded areas are mentioned often, as well as rivers. On page 182 we are told they are 50 miles from the sea. We can safely assume due to the descriptions of marshlands, magnolias, a dead guy sitting on his porch in his overalls, references to okra, and what sounds like a historic plantation home that they are in the American south. On page 275 they find themselves in swampland. Have they made it to Florida maybe? Is that where they were heading? Once again, we may never know.

So what happened? Well, all we're told is that the ground shook and out his bedroom window the man could see distant cities burning. We aren't told if these were nuclear bombs that destroyed the cities, there's never any references to mushroom clouds or nuclear fallout. We know afterwards everything is gray, there's ashes everywhere, and all of America has basically burned down to the ground. We're also told of a cholera epidemic. We don't know if there's a correlation between the cholera epidemic and the subsequent bombings. The man himself is unsure what exactly happened to America, which we find out when he demands to know the answer from a man they come across.

Did I like the book?
In a nutshell, not so much. It wasn't so much the story, it was the writing. I thought it was horrible. I read a few reviews on Goodreads where reviewers suggested that the author purposely used a very simple writing style to prove a point. About what I'm not sure. This book did win a ton of book awards despite the horrible writing style. The author constantly joined words that were meant to be two separate words: cashregister, boxcutter, and masonjar to name a few. My spellcheck is going crazy right now. He did not use contractions consistently. Sometimes he would use apostrophes correctly, but most of the time he'd completely omit them from the word. For example, "don't" was always wrote as "dont". The first time I read "dont" I thought it was a word I didn't know, then using context clues I realized he meant "do not". The only punctuation mark consistently used throughout the book was the period. Never quotations, so as I mentioned earlier, the reader never really knows when someone is talking verses the regular narrative and once they figure out this is meant as dialogue; they don't know which character is speaking. There were also errors such as one sentence which says, "Of a sudden he seemed to wilt even further". I'm under the assumption the author meant, "all of a sudden". The word patterns is also misspelled on page 180 as "patterans". Maybe the author didn't use an editor, I don't know. 

There were parts of the book I could appreciate. The father son relationship for one. It seemed sincere and realistic. The prevalence of good over evil. There were lots of bad people in this book. The imagery isn't for the faint of heart or sensitive. A lot of gruesome, nasty things happen. However, the good guys always prevail. The father and son still somehow maintain their morals throughout this post-apocalyptic existence. I always liked that the (presumed to be) Christian people aren't the crazy, insane ones like in most apocalyptic books (A Gift Upon The Shore and The Long Tomorrow for example). For once we're the good people! Kudos to us, pat on the back Christians.

To sum it all up, I gave the book 2 stars out of 5 stars on Goodreads. It's not really a sour rating as two stars means "it was okay". I did not realize this book was a movie until after I started reading it, so I went ahead and added it to my Netflix Queue. I will review the movie in comparison to the book on this blog after I watch it (there's a few movies ahead of it for me to watch- a Tess of The D'Urbervilles mini-series and The Age of Innocence).

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