Monday, March 28, 2011

How Did They Eke a Movie out of This?: A Review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Okay, so before you read my review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I want you to watch the trailer for the film. It's a strange request, especially coming from someone who is very often not thrilled with film adaptations. There is, however, a point to this. I swear.

Okay, did you watch that trailer? That's a pretty sweet trailer, am I right? There's action and dialogue and hints of relationships between characters. That is not at all what this book is like. Seriously.

Now, I haven't seen the movie. In fact, I didn't even watch the trailer until after I finished reading the book. That trailer might be misleading. The film might just be as boring and pointless as the book itself. Who knows?

Anyway, The Road is the tale of a father and son who are travelling to "the coast" in post-apocalyptic America. The book never really says what caused such widespread death and destruction, but with what I know of supervolcanoes, I'm going to guess it was probably that. (NOTE: if you never want to sleep again do a Google search on supervolcanoes, especially the one under Yellowstone National Park. That is some scary stuff, man.) 

Okay, picture this but, like, 1,000 times greater with the added
"bonus" that four states get completely wiped out and the ash
cloud completely encircles the earth blotting out the sun for
decades causing everything to wither and die. Sounds great, right?

For the entire book, they literally just keep travelling from place to place. Occasionally they find food. Once or twice they run into some people who are portrayed as not very nice because they cannibalize people. (I'm sorry, but if the world was pretty much destroyed and that was the only source of protein left, you better bet that I'd be picking meat off of people. I can't think of very many people who wouldn't.) That's it. Nothing else happens. For the entire book.

Thankfully it's a short book; just a little over 200 pages. And because McCarthy seems to have decided that things like quotation marks, apostrophes, and character development are overrated, the book kind of flies by because you're so eager to get to the end to find out if anything exciting happens. Surely a book that plays so dangerously with the modern conventions of writing would have a satisfying ending? Nope. In fact, I'd say it's one of the only books I've ever read which ended in a deus ex machina

The "relationship" between the father and the son is laughable. They barely talk to each other and when they do it's usually the same conversation:

Boy: I'm scared.
Man: Don't be scared.
Boy: Okay.
Man: Okay? 
Boy: Okay.
Man: Really?
Boy: No.
Man: Okay.
Boy: I want to die.

That goes on for the entirety of the book. McCarthy also seems to really dislike using things like "the boy said" or "the man said" so sometimes it was hard to follow who was saying what. Which I guess is kind of okay because they spend most of the book saying nothing at all.

McCarthy is pretty good at describing things. In fact, I probably would have liked this book a lot more if it was just a book describing the world after this giant apocalyptic event. Well, except for the fact that he uses fragments. Every sentence. In this book. Is. A. Fragment. Pretty much.

Cormac, buddy, were you trying to be edgy? Or were you trying to be clever in showing that the world was so desolate by using a sentence structure that was desolate? Because either way, Cormac, you failed. Miserably. 

The only reason it took me so long to read this book was because I kept getting bored and putting it down. I'd pick it up later and read huge chunks of text and hope against all hope that something would happen on the next page, but it never did. Maybe, in a way, that is sort of genius because that's pretty much how the boy and his father live their lives, always looking for something over the next ridge, in the next town, and not finding it. The only problem is that the reader should never be looking for the plot over the next ridge. Most readers find that to be kind of obnoxious actually.

But who am I to judge, right? I mean, I've never published a book, let alone one that got made into a movie. Yet, I can't help wondering how they managed to pull a whole film out of this book. It looks like they added a whole bunch of stuff (like, you know, other people, background story, actual dialogue) and that they even expanded the role of one character to fill the void left in the book. I have no interest in seeing the film but I have a feeling that if I ever watched it I'd be sitting there going, "Oh, so that's what this story could have been like if it had actually had a point." I could be wrong, of course. It could be just as bad. But I highly doubt it.

Oh, see that's what the book was missing: emotion.

Also, call me heartless, but what kind of father insists on making his small child continuously walk across the country to some ill-defined place that may or may not be better than where they already are? Why not just do the right thing and, you know, put the kid out of his misery? I mean, the world is destroyed. You barely have enough to eat. The child is starving and sick and there's no medicine. There are people out there that want to catch him so that they can eat him. Is it really such a horrible thing to say "screw it, there's no hope" and just smother him with a pillow one night? I mean, this is a child for crying out loud. 

Of course, McCarthy does something in the last few pages of the book that is supposed to make you go, "Oh, well, it's a good thing he didn't snuff the kid out" but really all I was left saying was, "Oh, well, here's some thinly-veiled justification for toting a starving kid around because of some false hope". But maybe that's just me.

There really isn't much more to say. I'm giving this book a 2 out of 5 stars. It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, but it definitely doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi as, I don't know, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish



  1. I was wondering why they were all fighting. I kinda figured it had to do something with survival of the fittest type of thing. Ick. People meat. I don't know if I'd be able to stomach the thought of eating other people to survive. I think I would rather starve. just saying. Not to mention the fact that if you are "spiritual" as you would say, I think it's back in Deuteronomy that God commands his people not to defile their bodies by eating other people. Anyway, I think I'm done contemplating this thought now.


  2. I'd try to go as long as possible without doing it, I think. I has nothing to do with spirituality, just more of a general ickiness factor. Humans, however, have a remarkable sense of self-preservation and we do what we have to.

    I wouldn't know anything about Deuteronomy so I can't help you there. I haven't really touched a Bible since I was in my teens and I can't say that I miss it. I do agree, however, that something changes once you get to the point that you're willing to eat another human being. Once you're in that kind of a situation though (I think of the Donner party or that rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes) it's either that or perish and for me I'd rather not perish.

    I guess we just have to hope that it never comes to that. :)

  3. Yeah because you'd be running around with a fork and a knife and I'd be the one running away. "Help! One of my favorite reviewers is trying to eat me!!"

  4. HAHAHAHAAH! You give yourself far too much credit. I bet you'd be really stringy and tough. LOL

    In all seriousness though, I think my real point was that you can't call people in extraordinary situations who make choices like that evil or immoral and that's basically what the book was doing. There was no other real indication that these people were "bad guys" (except for one scene that was sort of disturbing) and there was nothing to show that these had been anything but normal people prior to the cataclysm.

  5. I think I disagree with you. Let me type this out and I'll probably understand myself at the end. Self discipline and self control. You get one by practicing the other, no?

    Self discipline in itself is a form of suffering. You feel a lose. And if you don't you're not doing it right.

    Now let's think of murder now. Please tell me you think it's bad. I would be highly disturbed if you disagreed with me on this point. Just sayin'.

    Murder is bad. Do you commit murder when you slaughter a cow for meat? When you eat chicken? I guess in a sense it all depends on what you consider the definition of murder is. Some people thinks it's okay to have an abortion. Some don't. Some think its murder, other disagree. So In a sense of definition, no one person can just say, "Yes that makes you a sinner!".

    Okay, now back to self discipline or "suffering" as I like to call it. I would rather eat my dog than eat my sister. I would rather starve myself to death, because you can, than take another life and then eat their flesh. Sound appeasing? I believe murder is wrong, even in an instance of survival of the fittest. I'm not an animal. And even if I had no other choice but to act like one, I wouldn't do it.

    But then again, I am saying this as a sane least I think I'm sane. Anyway, you never know what a person would do in an instance of great madness. It's a scary place though, when you say you would eat a loved one just so you could survive before them. If you and I and a few other people were trapped on an island, I'd vote to kill you before we even make shelter. I won't have people eating each other in the middle of the night. No hard feelings.

    Make any sense at all? I'm not even sure if I got everything I was thinking down. In a clear sentence...bummer.

    And hey!! I am not stringy! Leave my meat out of this!

  6. Sorry I made fun of your meat. :)

    I definitely was NOT advocating for murder. In fact, when you look at most cases of cannibalism, the ones being eaten are ones who have already died (of natural causes or because of whatever event got these people into this situation). Of course, you get those nut jobs who go crazy and start hitting people with rocks and roasting them on a spit, but I'm hoping that those are few and far between.

    What I meant is that if there is a situation where there was, say, a plane crash and you've got a bunch of dead people already why *not* get some use out of them? The bad guys in this book were obviously trapping people and killing them so yes they were bad in that sense, but my real issue with calling them the bad guys is that in a world like that is anyone really good?

    The main character, known only as The Man, meets several people on the road and he does nothing to help them, no matter how much his son begs. Occasionally he will, grudgingly, give them a small bite to eat, but his kindness never extends past that. Is he not, in a sense, the bad guy too? Just because he doesn't kill someone and eat them doesn't mean that by his negligence he isn't killing them anyway.

    So, no, I would never outright murder someone just so that I could eat their liver with a nice chianti. I would, however, if the situation warranted, consider making use of the bodies of those who had already passed on. Of course, I would much rather avoid situations where that might have to become an option...especially if you'd be there because I'd apparently be brained with a rock the minute I stepped out of the wreckage of the plane. :)

  7. Okay good Now that I understand what you're saying I'm not totally disgusted. I still am just a little. But You've be demoted to,"don't try anything funny". That's way better than, "If we crash you die first". Don't you think?

  8. I'll definitely sleep better at night knowing that I might be able to live. :)

    Glad to know that we've got this squared away. It's funny though; when I first started this blog, I never expected that I'd get into a debate about cannibalism.

  9. Well you are talking about apocalyptic times. Anything could be debated.