The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: my-dystopia-utopia, post-apocalyptic, survival, end-of-the-world, literary-fiction, artsy-fartsy, pulitzer-winner, heebie-jeebies

This would have been five dazzling stars if not for some stylistic gripes.

The first is in the floor, such as “He sat down in the floor” or “The water spilled in the floor.” The first couple of times I thought they were typos that are annoyingly typical in e-books, but then I noticed its consistent use. Google tells me this is a colloquialism local to North Carolina. I can appreciate dialects, but I dislike stumbling over things and this one is, to me, nonsensical. If something is “in the floor,” I think it is inside the goddamn floor, like soaked-in liquid or ground-in dirt. It’s the difference between in the ground and on the ground, or on the bed and in bed. This was as annoying to me as Laura Lippmann’s Baltimoreon colloquialism “I am a police,” which I bitched about here.

My other gripe is about McCarthy’s disdain for apostrophes. Googling around, I read that he dislikes “cluttering up the page with unnecessary marks.” I take exception. When you omit apostrophes in can’t and won’t and we’ll then you’re using the entirely wrong goddamn word, and the apostrophes are hardly unnecessary clutter. McCarthy’s language is poetic and lyrical and beautifully archaic at times, and it interrupts a truly mesmerizing flow when I have to go back and reread the phrase or sentence because it doesn’t make sense as written. It’s like walking through a familiar room and constantly stubbing my toes and barking my shins because some madman just decided to move the couch into the doorway. Artsy-fartsy literary pretensions like this are, um, pretentious.

Other reviewers were also irritated by the lack of quotation marks around dialogue. I suspect these are more of what McCarthy deems unnecessary clutter, but Margaret Atwood uses this device to particularly good effect and it didn’t bother me here.

Now that we’re past my gripes, all I can say about this book is — wow. I mean, wow. I cannot remember ever reading a book as bleak and hopeless. McCarthy’s use of language lends an eerie beauty to the endless gray desolation of his post-apocalyptic world. There isn’t much plot to this setting- and character-driven story, and there doesn’t need to be. The deceptively simple repetition of days and nights and ash and cold and hard-won survival and persevering love is where its power arises. It’s stunning.

If you are a fan of dystopian fiction, this book is not to be missed. Perhaps the style choices will not irritate you as they did me.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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