An ECW review from 2008 (pre-blog!)
That I would recommend a novel about the end of the world by Cormac McCarthy surprises me too. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t consider a book by McCarthy, who received the 1992 National Book Award for All the Pretty Horses. But several incidents conspired to put The Road in my hands. And once I started reading, I was hooked.
Last fall (2007), the Coen Brothers produced a movie entitled No Country for Old Men based on McCarthy’s novel of the same name. I love the Coen brothers. (Their movie Fargo is one of my favorites.) So in spite of the movie’s origins, I thought it might be worth seeing. But before I rush to the theater, I call the Overton Colton household for the real scoop. With three teenage boys in residence, someone has seen every movie in town, usually more than once.
I ask Andrew Colton about NCFOM. He responds, “It’s really intense.” This isn’t particularly helpful, so I press on. “How intense?” I ask. “Just really intense, Aunt Elizabeth.” Well, I could tell that Andrew Colton didn’t think his old Auntie E. was tough enough for NCFOM, which I took as a personal challenge. I can handle this. Didn’t I see Munich?
So I put on my big girl pants and drive to the Green Hills Theater. The movie is not so frightening after all. The bad guy’s Prince Valiant hairdo really undermines his scariness. Did men actually wear their hair like that in 1980? Granted, I close my eyes during the bloody parts, but estimate that I missed only about 20 percent of the film. The rest of the movie is fascinating, unhurried, and, yes, intense.
Not long after seeing NCFOM, my friend Conte recommends The Road. I explain that despite having tolerated NCFOM, I am not a fan of McCarthy’s work. But he insists that I read it.
Based on his recommendation, I pick up The Road the next time I’m in the bookstore. I read about a third of the book while sitting on the floor at Borders and finish it later that night. Reading The Road is like driving by a multi-car accident. You don’t want to look, but you can’t look away.
The plot is simple. It is the end of the world. The land is gray and cold. A father and son journey to the coast. They are always hungry and afraid. One night, the boy and his father have the following conversation.
We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
You said we werent.
I said we werent dying. I didn’t say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.
No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
At first, like the circuitous dialogue, The Road doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. (Can you find Despair on the map?) But eventually it becomes clear that the novel is not just about a trip to the coast (A ha!) With an extreme lack of fussiness, McCarthy explores, what it means to be human, to be good, and to trust one another. The relationship between the boy and his dad is achingly real, and one of the most poignant depictions of parental love that I have ever read.
A few weeks later, a boy and his aunt have the following conversation:
I just finished the grimmest book, The Road.
We read that in school. Awesome!
It’s so sad, Andrew.
I hear they’re making a movie of it.
How is that possible? Nothing happens.
Lots happens, Aunt Elizabeth.