The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 2007. It has been read and reviewed all over, but that probably won't stop me from adding my thoughts to the mix.
This was the first book I have read by this author, and his style is not pleasing to me, but it did not bother me in this book (though I was put off by some others I looked at in the bookstore). The spare, staccato sentences have a rhythm to them that matches the story, and it fits too well to imagine the story being told in any other way. The occasional repetition of certain phrases adds to the lyric effect.
"You have to talk to me."
Although, the way Cormac McCarthy writes it, there are no quotation marks or apostrophes.
This is a post-apocalyptic story, with no explanation of how the world came to be as it is. It reminded me of earth's surface in the movie The Matrix, but without the machines. In the movie, the humans declare, "It was we who scorched the sky," and in The Road, that is precisely what has been done. Some years ago (at least 5, I think; maybe as many as 10), the sun was blotted out, and the greater part of the population was killed. The world is ashy gray, and cold, and comfortless. In this world, there is no way to start over. Without the sun, there is no way to produce new food, and so the survivors are reduced to living as parasites on the decaying civilization, scrabbling for the remnants, of which it is only too clear that there must be a limited supply.
The book is the story of a man and a boy (his son)--nameless, ageless, hopeless. In this world, the weak and alone fall prey to bands of modern savages, who hunt the only thing left to be hunted. They are moving along the road, moving south toward the ocean, hoping it will be warmer. Along the way, they scavenge for food, try to avoid other people, and rarely remain in one place more than a day or two.
Early in the book, we understand that the father is dying, but he insists that they press on, down the road.
I don't want to give away the ending. Others have written that they thought about the book for days after finishing it, and it has been the same for me. The father insists that they press on because they "carry the fire." Not long ago, I read one blogger who thought the "fire" might be hope, but it didn't feel quite like hope to me. Nothing could be more hopeless than the circumstances of this world. Or at least, maybe the fire is just one small aspect of hope--the will to live, no matter what. But not to live as a savage--to live as a man, to preserve what shreds of dignity and fineness man has left, and they are not much.
One of the reasons I think this will to live is the "fire" is that the man actually has a hard time sharing his will to live with his son, who has known no world but this one. He has instilled in the boy a just horror of the worst kind of savagery known to man, but the boy is astute enough to see that they are not really much better--they may not kill outright, but when they steal or eat some food, they are contributing to, if not causing, the death of others. He doesn't want to be what he almost has to be in order to survive, and so his will to live wavers.
This book doesn't feel like realism or a "true" story to me. It has more of an allegorical fairy- tale quality--the dark woods, the wicked witches, the big bad wolves--but there are no heroes to make it come right. It was an interesting book--one to ponder--but not one I'd enthusiastically recommend to be enjoyed. You read this one to peer into the heart of man and see the worst that he can be, and how inadequate he is even at best.