He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God. -From The Road, page 10-
Cormac McCarthy just won The Pulitzer Prize for The Road, a novel of profound bleakness and beauty which almost defies definition. I was worried about reading this book, which has garnered praise but has also been described as dark and depressing. It is dystopian literature which I usually avoid because the genre always struck me as so pessimistic. That being said, The Road blew me away and will make my list for one of the best books I’ve read in 2007.
The story appears to be a simple one: a father and his young son are traveling along a road somewhere in America after a devastating event which has killed almost every living thing and left the world in a gray haze of floating ash and weird weather. There are “bad guys” and there are horrors; there are moments of sheer terror which seem to be nightmares instead of actual life. Layered beneath this story is a larger story – one about a boy and his father and the love they share, one about faith and hope and the will to survive. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and written in an unembellished language which somehow makes it that much more powerful.
I found myself compulsively turning the pages, unable to stop reading the story. I would lay the book down, and then pick it up only moment later. Just a few more pages. McCarthy carries the reader along on this journey, looking for the hope around every curve in the road, holding their breath, wondering if God has survived the devastation after all.
McCarthy uses metaphor and symbolism throughout the novel – the fire which the boy carries inside him (is this spiritualism? hope? humanity?), and the road itself – to just name two. This is a deep book, one that deserves to be discussed and thought about. It is certainly worthy of the Pulitzer.
There are some wonderful reviews of this book out in the blogosphere. You can go here to read several in one place, and to take part in some interesting discussions of the book. Ariel at Sycorax Pine has written a stunning review of this novel.