Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Novel: The Road

(2007) Cormac McCarthy

I was up until 3:30 AM last night - a work night, finishing this book because I couldn’t put it down. Stupid of me, I know. The novel is haunting and moving, concerning a father and small son clinging to survival in a world apparently post-apocalyptic.

I was initially irked at the style. It’s almost free-verse with dialogue lacking quotes and usually lacking attribution; and it’s front-loaded with seemingly gratuitous creation of new, or rather altered, words. But you quickly discover that it all works very well. Rules are made to be broken only when the perpetrator fully grasps the necessity and formula behind the rule and derives the same results through a route not only different but superior given the context.

Here, the dialogue is so clear and its characters possessing such unique voices and the story so gently told that such standard dialogue baggage is not only optional but downright unwarranted.

As for the new words – let’s take “burntlooking” for example. Though widely treated as literary fiction I assume, the piece is in essence SF; Speculative Fiction; the modern and much more useful genre classification formerly divided into Sci-Fi and Fantasy. As such, it’s entirely proper to alter language within the dialogue to support the author’s vision of a world different from the one we (think we) know. In McCarthy’s speculative world in which so much of the environment, both natural and man made, looks burnt, ‘burntlooking’ might be a common word. To use this right in the narrative though, is contrary to the FWG School of Good Storytelling because the reader lives in this world. But I can’t say it was a problem here. It served to make it seem as if the book itself was written within such a charred world.

The characters are wonderfully built drawing deep empathy. The subtlety factor is flawless. This is a story you can fall right into.

The imagery is superb. McCarthy clearly envisions the landscape and delivers it expertly with description and metaphors that fire on all cylinders.

In one sense it’s a nice easy read that will invoke emotion and linger in your memory. In another sense it bears the strength and usefulness of good SF; not particularly for its capacity as a well-researched cautionary tale, but for its rare connection to the veiled realities of the human species.

I may add this to my list of all-time favorite books after I give it some time to digest.

I especially recommend this to any fathers of young sons. Don’t let its inclusion in Oprah’s book club scare you off.


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