Best of the Millennium

#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

By posted at 2:13 pm on September 23, 2009 12

coverThere are, in Cormac McCarthy’s impossibly affecting novels, details that simultaneously open up his dismal universe and draw in the reader. In Blood Meridian, it’s the Apache wearing the wedding dress. In All the Pretty Horses, it’s the bullet hole in the wallet. In No Country for Old Men, the glass of milk, still sweating on the coffee table. In The Road, it’s the can of Coke, pulled from the guts of the vending machine. No, it’s that the soda has somehow stayed carbonated after the cataclysm. No, it’s that the father lets his son drink the whole thing. Surely this is one of the most humane and deeply inhabited moments not just in fiction from this millennium, but in all of literature.

And yet the book is rife with such moments, replete with such deep empathy for the father and son that some of the bleakest passages will turn your stomach as only love can. This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of The Road: what remains, what you remember years after you’ve read the book, is the beauty, the compassion, the relentlessness of possibility that burns on the colorless horizon. You understand—much in the way that you first understand poetry, through feeling and syntax and imagery rather than logic—that no matter how desolate the story, it is made bearable through language. There is, the novel asserts, something like triumph in the very telling of a tale, a commitment to the act of witness, and to receive a story is to exalt the imagination, to participate in the process of faith, to accept deliverance. Why else, then, would the father in the novel—when his son is too scared to sleep, when the noise of the world dying its cold death keeps him awake—comfort the boy with narrative? They’ve been stripped of everything except voice, but even on the darkest path words can retain their meaning, their promise of light that will lead lost travelers home.

Read an excerpt from The Road.
More Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far)
Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers





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12 Responses to “#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy”

  1. Rachel
    at 2:34 pm on September 23, 2009

    What a beautiful review! This book has received accolades everywhere, but this is up there with the most poetic I’ve read.

  2. bradluen
    at 8:02 pm on September 23, 2009

    I had a rant about McCarthy’s violent sentimentality half-prepared, except you people put Sebald in your top ten, so you’re off the hook.

  3. Derrick H.
    at 11:45 pm on September 23, 2009

    This review makes me want to go purchase the book at this very moment and do nothing else but read this book till I’ve absorbed it completely.

  4. Ciarán D.
    at 3:50 am on September 24, 2009

    Do it Derrick, you’ll have it read in a few hours and won’t regret it.

    Bradluen, I’d like to hear your rant about McCarthy’s violent sentimentality, out of interest.

  5. Lydia Kiesling
    at 7:19 am on September 24, 2009

    Bradluen, I’m not sure what you mean by “violent sentimentality,” but you’ve given me the courage to say, very quietly, that i find the rapture over The Road sort of puzzling. I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed it because it was willy-inducing and…gruesome, I guess. And it was sort of default-enjoyable because it was post-apocalyptic. Derivative is a strong word, but it seems to me that people act like no one ever wrote a story along these lines.

    My two cents.

  6. Nick
    at 4:35 am on September 30, 2009

    I was very disappointed by this book.
    Maybe its interest wanes if someone has read a lot of science fiction.
    The book is quite touching but I found it also not very imaginative and very repetitive and Providence’s recurrent role in the story is at best really upsetting. (I’m starving…oh some apples. I’m cold.. oh a blanket. A flaregun… oh some bad guys). The plot completely bored me.
    The writing is perfect though.

    I much much much preferred ‘All the pretty horses’.

  7. o.swartz
    at 7:16 pm on October 4, 2009

    Please, please, please. What father wouldn’t let his son drink all the coke (even the LAST one) any where, any time, any place? What on earth is so special about that?
    The “colorless horizon” burns with…colorless horizon. This book is a travesty of the story telling art. It shows what a Big Name author can get away with.

  8. Lamb
    at 10:23 pm on October 26, 2009

    Wow, why isn’t 1984 on this list, Big Brother? Censorship is quite passe on the internet, or so I thought, but when you critcisize the critic they get their feelings hurt. Here, again, is the worst line of criticism I’ve ever read:

    “In The Road, it’s the can of Coke, pulled from the guts of the vending machine. No, it’s that the soda has somehow stayed carbonated after the cataclysm. No, it’s that the father lets his son drink the whole thing. Surely this is one of the most humane and deeply inhabited moments not just in fiction from this millennium, but in all of literature.”

    The “guts of a vending machine?” A father letting “his son drink the whole” coke is “surely one of the most humane and deeply inhabited moments…in all of literature?” This is insane and asnine.

  9. RJB
    at 3:35 pm on January 9, 2010

    Complete horror with the darkest world I have ever seen. The father/son relationship a most profound story to such a backdrop. Excellent read.

  10. mark
    at 11:56 am on January 14, 2010

    this book bored me all the way till the end. i can’t see why it got all the good reviews. it is writing well but so are hundreds of other books that don’t get anyware near these lists.
    this book only got ware it got because it made the opra book club.i don’t think we would have even noticed it if it didn’t

  11. JCD
    at 4:16 pm on March 10, 2010

    I only made it about a third of the way through this book. I found the son to be a flimsily written foil for an author who wanted someone to speak words of innocence for the father to brood over. In a novel that is entirely about two people in a dying world, I really need both characters to be real. This novel failed that. There must be something about the father’s brooding that struck a chord with people, but it didn’t work for me.

  12. Dan Wilkinson
    at 11:42 am on July 17, 2011

    “In No Country for Old Men, the glass of milk, still sweating on the coffee table.”
    This isn’t in the book, only in the movie.

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