You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is a tale of an apocalyptic future where a man and his son are traveling south in search of food and some kind of subsistence. The sun does not shine, and the world is filled with alternating rain and fires. Ashes are everywhere, and there are hardly any living things. The few people they come across try to take their food. Trees and other plants are dead.

The central conflict is the man and boy's struggle to find food. They also have to protect themselves against those who would steal their food, or even kill and eat them. They find horrific things along the way. A band of men, with guns and slaves, travels down the road, and two hide. One of the strange men stumbles on them, and the man is forced to use one of his last two bullets to shoot the stranger, allowing the two to run away. When they return to find their shopping cart looted, they also find the dead man's bones, picked clean.

The man shows resourcefulness at finding food that others had not found. All the grocery stores are looted, every kitchen is empty, and there are no crops or even rats to eat. They find a treasure trove of food in an old hidden bunker. Late in the story the man swims to a boat on the shore and finds cans of food.

They also find horrors. In one house they find people trapped in a basement, one with his leg cut off, and run away as the people who trapped them there return. Two groups of people try to stop them, but they get away when the man points his gun at them. They find one old man who is just walking down the road, and give him some food.

The man struggles to take care of his son. His wife had given up, seeing the futility of life in the now barren world. He lives for the boy. He knows that the boy doesn't stand much of a chance of survival without him. He warns his son of the bad people, the ones who will just take his food or kill him. He tells him to find the good people. They talk about whether there are good people left in the world. It is almost a religious discussion. The boy asks if they are good people and the man says yes. In a sense they are looking for salvation, looking to find any other people surviving in the world without killing. The man talks some about what he has lost, and knows that the boy will never have anything like it.

Also they argue. The boy wants to give the old man some food, and his father doesn't. In the end the boy wins. The man thinks only of the survival of himself and his son. The boy always sees how they can help others. He talks about another boy he saw in a city, and whether he was alone or had a family. The man regrets that the boy has to see things that he shouldn't have to see, but insists that he do as he is told, like keep the gun with him when the man leaves. The boy represents the more innocent, the more generous, side of life.

The road means that they are always on the move. They cannot stay in one place for long, for there is no food, and others might come and threaten them. They have no ties to the past, in a world that is broken and charred.

I read a comment about the language of the book, that it doesn't match the vocabulary of the average man in places, and seems too poetic or literary. I didn't see much of it. The few times the language was noteworthy, I saw it as the father's thoughts, reasonable for a somewhat educated man, or the narrator's comments. Either way, I thought it added to the story.

The book is described as science fiction, but there are no elements of science fiction other than the setting, a world that has been affected by some catastrophe that left it unable to support life. In its tone and plot, it is closer to a horror story, something that Stephen King would write. But its theme is love and hope, as the man and boy seek to find a place to survive, to stop traveling on the road. The relationship between the two is pivotal and moving. They know that they only have each other left in the world. Though disturbing in places, it contains a glimpse of a positive future at the end. A-.


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