It is also a kind of reply to a writer who didn't like The Road and gave it one star on his Goodreads account and then wrote 1,636 words justifying the one star.
I'm thinking he missed the point.
Now, I'm a bit late to this party, as The Road was published in 2006. But it recently came out on a BookBub ebook promotion, and I bought and read it, so that's my excuse for being late.
Next, we must say that I'm not alone in liking The Road. It won the Pulitzer Prize. But that's a guarantee that some folk will not like it and will give it one star on Goodreads.
As for me, I am not a big Cormac McCarthy fan. I had never read any of his novels and had only seen the movie version of No Country for Old Men, which was impressive but very bloody and I am much against violence in all forms, whether artificial or real.
But I came away from The Road a Cormac McCarthy fan.
Neither am I particularly interested in post-apocalyptic stories. I liked A Canticle for Leibowitz, and I thought "Planet of the Apes" with the Statue of Liberty half-buried in sand was stark and horrific-- when I was twelve. But mostly I find the fall of civilizations yuck and I find survival stories even yucker.
But the nuclear winter world of The Road blew me away.
I also think that when authors bend language, as The Road does brilliantly, they almost always fail, unless they are William Faulkner. It is so difficult to write a coherent story first of all that to try to be original with the language and tell a coherent story is even more colossally difficult.
But that's what The Road did, and succeeded.
In fact, the language was so natural to the story that I can't imagine it being told except in that way, with that vocabulary, with those turns of phrase.
The Road succeeded for me on every level, against all odds.
But as I say, this other writer gave the book one star and thought it was terrible. What gives?
Now, I can see how the general reader would not like The Road. It is extremely bleak. Somehow the world has suffered a nuclear winter, but we're never told exactly how it happened or why. The two characters in the book, a father and a son, are unnamed, and only the barest background of their previous life is given. There is no plot-- the pair are trying to move "south" for a vague reason (maybe it's warmer there?), and the whole book is taken up with their relentless search for survival and safety. It is a decidedly un-entertaining type of story. It doesn't follow Joseph Campbell's principles for The Hero's Journey, and there is no feel-good ending or really any conventional payoff to the reader for persevering.
Some reviewers talk about the book as a "cautionary tale." Look out, because this is what's going to happen to us if we have a nuclear war. But that would have left me cold. Prophets are rarely profound.
What The Road has is an extremely deep, thoroughgoing passion, sensitivity, and love for human life that is deeply spiritual. And I think it is deceptive in its depth, and deliberately written in order to put people off, because I think Cormac McCarthy understands the horrible pas-de-deux of love and hate that human beings carry on with themselves and each other.
The Road asks the question, if you had everything, every shred of comfort, normalcy, habit, distraction, and hope, taken from you, would you still have a reason to love?
And not feeling love-- the momentary love of lovers-- but diligent love, that which is expressed in action where there are no feelings possible because you are too exhausted.
Exactly the kind of love a parent has for his or her child.
I don't know that I would've appreciated The Road if I weren't a father. That is the one area of my life where I have experienced moments of supreme exhaustion and frustration and momentary hopelessness and yet continued to do what was right for my children.
Now the writer who panned The Road is a highly successful fantasy novelist. His books have sold in the hundreds of thousands. His road to publication was torturous and serendipitous, and I would expect he considers himself highly fortunate.
He is also a father. In his bio he speaks of a daughter for whom he wrote his first fantasy novel.
But McCarthy's depiction of a father's sacrificial-- and seemingly pointless-- love of his son made no apparent impression on this writer.
I don't know why. Perhaps the writer's wife always got up to feed the baby at 3 AM.
Perhaps he did not endure years of his life intermittently covered in spit-up and other bodily fluids.
Perhaps he never had to be up for twenty-four hours straight with a child whose fever just would not go down, and the smell of Pedialyte does not nauseate him.
Perhaps his child never looked at him with an expression of pure hatred because he was just trying to do the right thing as a father.
Or maybe the writer had too much of all that and deep down, beyond the surface criticism, he looks at The Road as an unwelcome reiteration of bad memories.
Regardless, it is parents, I contend, for whom The Road is going to resonate most deeply.
Anyone who has ever had a child with one of those fevers or one of those looks (or many of them) and had that momentary sense of what's-the-point should be able to understand, identify with, live in, and get lost in the mazy, language-bending, sleep-deprived, hallucinatory, monochrome, and yet supremely transcendent story and world that Cormac McCarthy has created in The Road.
The book is (among many other things, because I am simplifying by necessity) about feeling that what's-the-point moment and going ahead and doing the right thing anyway, magnified a billion times.
This dad says wow.
Image is from here.