First impressions: ‘The Road’ is paved with ominous suspense
Do you carry the fire? If the world ended today, would you be one of the good guys? Or would you resort to cannibalism to survive? And if you fall in the middle, would you be able to spot the difference between good and bad around you in order to survive?
What if the world had come to the brink of annihilation and left behind survivors to deal with the aftermath? Between Point A and Point B, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” winds through a conceivable desolation of the earth, providing plenty of barren yet horrific imagery along the way while creating a level of suspense that could bring an end to life around every corner.
A nameless father and son are alive, survivors of some terrible disaster that leveled most of the earth and its life some years ago, leaving behind a barren landscape of ruins, gray dust and death that will make you appreciate the color and vibrancy of the world around you, inside or out. After realizing that trying to stay in their current location for one more winter could be detrimental, the father decides to embark south along the namesake road toward the ocean in the hopes of finding warmer climates and “the good guys,” described throughout the novel as people that have clung to their values despite the post-apocalyptic world they live in.
Cormac McCarthy masterfully tells a riveting story while providing plenty of room for the reader to imagine how the world got into its current state and wonder if it will ever find its way out.
Woven throughout the story is a level of suspense that never dies down. Danger is lurking around every corner. While reading wrapped up in a comforter valuing the warmth of a heater next to me I had to look up often and reassure myself that I was safe. The entire novel feels like a horror story that has no need to shock the reader because the mind can travel many unmapped roads of its own. I was so afraid of what was around the next obstacle in the road sometimes that my eye would jump ahead a paragraph or two just to make sure the worst hadn’t happened to the father and son.
But rather than provide some huge shock or bombshell, McCarthy expertly keeps the focus of the novel on the journey, which could come to an end at any moment at the hand of a cannibal or continue indefinitely until starvation or exhaustion strike. Through this lack of an ultra-shocking moment, McCarthy expertly places the reader in the world of the father and son. The dangers around every corner are bound to strike and the main characters are rarely surprised by these. Even when a bit of a surprise sneaks up on them (and the reader), the father never responds surprised. The shock and surprise of he and son’s predicament has long since worn off.
The predicament of the main characters and their situation is also something that occupied me throughout the story. I hung on the few shards that McCarthy provides, hoping to decipher why the world is the way it is and how the father and son have survived so long. In the end, there are plenty of questions remaining. Here are a few…
- How did the earth come this state of desolation? If you Google “The Road,” you’ll quickly discover that many speculate that the novel is making a statement about the environment, suggesting that mankind has caused its own annihilation. But what McCarthy never does is leave an overbearing statement as to why. This is good. It allows the reader to draw their own conclusions without holding their hand.
- What did the father do in the pre-apocalyptic world? I suspect his profession has something to do with his survival and his faith in mankind.
- Related to the previous question, how was the father and his wife’s relationship in the pre-apocalyptic world?
As you may or may not know, “The Road” is being made into a movie, starring Viggo Mortensen as the father. I suspect he might have the right mix of ruggedness and compassion to pull the complicated part off. What will be interesting to see is if the relationship between he and his son, played by Kodi Smith-McPhee, is the same as in the novel. The relationship has multiple layers to it, from the traditional knowing father and naive son to a level of unsurprising honesty that could only be present in a post-apocalyptic world. Finally, I’m weary of the world that director John Hillcoat will paint on screen. I’m crossing my fingers that he sticks with McCarthy’s not-over-the-top shock that creates the unending suspense in the novel.
Check out the trailer and decide for yourself:
Have you read “The Road?” What did you think? Do you have any expectations or hopes for the movie?