A review of

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Central question: How does one live when the world is dead?
Format: 241 pp., hardcover; Size: 5-1/2" x 9-1/2"; Price: $24.00; Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Editor: Sonny Mehta; Book design: Peter A. Anderson; Jacket design: Chip Kidd; Typeface: Bulmer; Printed and bound by: Berryville Graphics; Publications that carried the author’s only two interviews: The New York Times, Vanity Fair; Standard punctuation the author often eschews in this and other books: quotation marks, hyphens, parentheses, apostrophes in most contractions, semicolons; Representative sentence: “He made train noises and diesel horn noises but he wasn’t sure what these might mean to the boy.”

In The Road, the title is the story: an unnamed father and son travel south on a state road years after nuclear explosions have ended life as we know it. Pulp material, but ground down to its essence: the search for food. It is Cormac McCarthy’s most lucid novel since Child of God in 1974. Like its darkly comic predecessor, The Road is structured around a series of vignettes, the drama tightly compressed. They walk until they see a house, watch it for signs of life, and enter to search for anything edible. This, with few variations, is the entirety of the book.

Resolutely nonpsychological, The Road gives few clues to the family’s inner life. All depends on their interaction with the land, which McCarthy renders with exhaustive detail. It is a survival guide on how to design shoes out of tarp, replace a shopping-cart wheel, and siphon gas from a stove. McCarthy’s project is to render these objects strange—as remnants of an alien race—until they gain the power to instill awe and terror, a reenchantment of the world. A well-preserved sextant unexpectedly stirs the father, cans of peaches are handled like sacred chalices, and unknown tracks in the asphalt reduce the boy to tears.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—R. Emmet Sweeney

R. Emmet Sweeney was proudly born in Buffalo. He writes for the Village Voice, IFC News, and helps to maintain the film blog Termite Art.

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