Something on the Horizon – “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
My interest in reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was admittedly sparked by seeing that it had been turned into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen. The trailers looked post-apocalyptic and eerie, without ever giving away what the plot of the story was. Granted, I still haven’t seen the movie – and I vowed not to until I had read the book.
“The Road” is riveting reading. It was a book that kept me up way past my bedtime, for each time I would think about putting it down and going to sleep, the fact that I wouldn’t know what happened next gnawed at me.
I remember once reading an article about “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” where it was explained that the most horrifying parts of the movie are the parts left to the audience’s imagination. For example, in the movie, there’s a scene where Leatherface puts the screaming girl on a meat hook. Post-viewing the movie, many audience members claimed they had actually seen the meathook go into the girl’s back, when in reality that shot isn’t included in the movie. “The Road” kept bringing that idea back into my head. A major part of what keeps “The Road” so fascinating is that McCarthy trusts his readers to fill in the blanks. We’re never told what happened to the rest of the world, who the “bad guys” are, or where exactly The Man and The Boy are headed, other than “the coast.” On more than one occasion, The Man leaves The Boy with a pistol, and instructions as to how to kill himself should the “bad guys” get him. This leaves all this information to be filled in by the imagination of the reader – as twisted and scary as they may will it to be.
In this sparse novel, our two heroes – called only The Man (or Papa) and The Boy – make their way down an endless road after some sort of major disaster has cleared out much of the world. They push a shopping cart and carry backpacks full of whatever supplies they can lug with them, and keep to the road as much as possible. Once in a while, seeing something up ahead – a group of people called the “bad guys” – they detour and haul it into the woods to hide. They travel in bitter cold temperatures, scavenge what they can from abandoned houses and stores they pass, and simply try to survive.
The novel has elements of both a travelogue and a horror story, while being written in a free-form way. Days are detailed, then a month passes, in the course of a page. For much of the book, it’s just these two characters, a shopping cart, and a road – and it seems like a father/son bonding story, albeit one with desperate protagonists. Then, there are moments of sheer terror – such as when our heroes wind up in a big crumbling house full of horrific sights.
Cormac McCarthy has written a hell of a book. I’m still thinking about it. There’s a recommendation for you.