04 June 2007

Reading The Road

I started reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road the other night. I've read much about this book -- both positive and negative. I haven't read much fiction this year, and although I have several other books I've started, I decided that I wanted to start yet another. Since I've been spending a lot of time with non-fiction this year, this is a definite departure from the other books I've been reading.

I've only read about 70 pages and I haven't decided yet exactly what I think about the book or McCarthy's writing style. This is the first book by him that I have attempted to read. The first sentence of the novel drew me in: "When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him." But then I stumbled when I read the next: "Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before" Dark beyond darkness? "Overwrought sentence" was my first thought; trying too hard to be poetic. But I read on. Phrases written as sentences. How can one make sense without a noun & a verb? I don't get it, at least not very easily.

But, as I continued I realized that this is a great example of a writer knowing the rules so that he can effectively break them. The disjointed phrases, the half-thought sentences do mean something. Each sentence builds upon the others to create a desolate and bleak voice. I don't like the lack of punctuation in places; I don't like that there aren't any chapter breaks. But, I do like how it all works together to form McCarthy's tale of a father and son struggling through a nightmare landscape in hopes of finding someplace that will be a refuge from the apocalypse.

I liked the following passage in which the father finds an unopened can of Coke which he gives to the boy:

What is it, Papa?
It's a treat. For you.
What is it?
Here. Sit down.
He leaned his nose to the slight fizz coming from the can and then handed it to the boy. Go ahead, he said.
The boy took the can. It's bubbly, he said.
Go ahead.
He looked at his father and then tilted the can and drank. He sat there thinking about it. It's really good, he said.
Yes. It is.
You have some, Papa.
I want you to drink it.
You have some.
He took the can and sipped it and handed it back. You drink it, he said. Let's just sit here.
It's because I wont ever get to drink another one, isnt it?
Ever's a long time.
Okay, the boy said.

In just a few short sentences, the reader understands that the drink is not just a treat, but a gift. The father doesn't want to hurt his son's feelings when his son wants to share, so he obligingly takes a small sip, but he wants for his son to enjoy it. Through the boy's realization of what a singular gift this is, McCarthy depicts how bleak and barren their world is.

Ever's a long time the father says.
And the boy knowingly agrees.

I look forward to reading more of this book and I'm sure I'll post about it again.


Courtney said...

I TORE through this book so badly did I want to get out of the world McCarthy created. At first I was put off by the sentence fragments as well but eventually the narrative grew on me and I believe this is both a good book and an important book and one every American should read and yet, and yet, I hated it,all at the same time.

Camille said...

I look forward to hearing more of your opinion on this. I just bought this book but for some reason, I can't start it. I've thumbed through it and caught a few of the grisly parts and I'm not sure I feel like getting into that right now. I read one other by McCarthy (Suttree) in graduate school. And, you're right, I know now that the reason I don't want to start it is because I know McCarthy will get to me. He does have an ability to so effectively create emotion with his sparse prose and I'm not willing to let him in right now.

danielle said...

I have read a couple of McCarthy's earlier novels and loved them. This one seems different, but I suppose it is because of the subject matter. I have it, but I haven't brought myself to read it yet. This year! It seems people either loved it, or really hated it.